L.A. County animal control confirms investigation into death of 29 horses in Creek fire

A member of the Padilla family surveys her family's ranch, where 29 horses perished in the Creek fire.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Animal care officials confirmed Thursday that they are investigating the death of 29 horses at a Sylmar ranch during the fast-moving Creek fire last week.

The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control issued a lengthy statement last week in which they shared their officers’ efforts to save horses at Rancho Padilla. The statement did not include details about an investigation.

The ranch boarded its own horses, but also rented stalls to horse owners.

“We are actually looking into it and investigating the entire situation,” Don Barre, a spokeswoman for the department, said Thursday. “We can’t say anything about the investigation until it’s over.”


The fire was first reported at 3:43 a.m. on Dec. 5. The family who owns the ranch said they awoke to flames and were instructed by a fire crew to leave.

The department received a request for help at 8:45 a.m. Animal control officers rescued as many horses as they could, and broke the padlocks off 10 stalls, the department said in a statement.

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A member of the Padilla family has stated that she told owners who boarded their horses at the ranch not to put locks on their stalls. Twenty-nine horses perished.

In an interview last week, Danny Ubario, deputy director of operations for the county’s animal control department, said the department was trying to set up an interview with the ranch family.

The department wants to determine if the family had an evacuation plan in place and understand all the details of what happened, he said.


“I don’t know who the actual locks belong to. I can only presume the horses were padlocked and each different owner had their own set of locks,” Ubario said. “I don’t really know.”

It is unclear what the outcome of the investigation could be.

The department has conducted other investigations, including one on cock-fighting and another earlier this year regarding 80 snakes and a pool full of alligators at a Thousand Oaks home.

In San Diego County, at least 46 horses died at San Luis Rey Downs, a thoroughbred training facility, during the Lilac wildfire.

The County of San Diego’s Department of Animal Services said they are not investigating the deaths at the training facility.

“I’ve heard about the stories that horses were locked in stalls and things like that,” said Daniel DeSousa, director for the county’s Department of Animal Services, about the fire at Padilla ranch. “That was not the case down here. This fire moved so rapidly through the San Luis Rey Downs area and through that whole riverbed — people were trying to do heroic efforts just to try and rescue these horses.”

The thoroughbred facility in Bonsall accommodates 495 horses and at least 450 were there when the fire struck on Thursday, according to a spokesman for the California Horse Racing Board. Officials said about 360 surviving horses from San Luis Rey Downs were moved to the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

“I don’t think anybody could have saved all these horses, based upon how fast this fire was moving and how destructive it really was,” DeSousa said.

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