At least 46 horses dead, others missing from thoroughbred facility after San Diego County wildfire

Terrified horses gallop from San Luis Rey Downs as the Lilac fire swept through the horse-training facility Thursday.
(Paul Sisson / San Diego Union-Tribune)

At least 46 horses were killed at a thoroughbred training facility during the Lilac wildfire in northern San Diego County, and others remain missing.

Mike Marten, a spokesman for the California Horse Racing Board, said Saturday that the death toll at San Luis Rey Downs could rise. He said the thoroughbred facility in Bonsall accommodates 495 horses and that at least 450 were there when the fire struck on Thursday.

Marten said a small number of horses escaped to the wilderness through a fence that was knocked down and haven’t been located.


Some horses refused to leave their burning stables. Some got out only to run back in. Some made it to safety on the track, only to collapse and die.

Full coverage: Southern California fires »

Trainer Martine Bellocq suffered second- and third-degree burns over half her body as she tried to rescue six horses, according to Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. She was airlifted to UC San Diego Medical Center and placed in a medically induced coma, Balch said.

Officials said about 360 surviving horses from San Luis Rey Downs were moved to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and some 850 horses evacuated during the fires are stabled there.

A fundraiser for the San Luis Rey Downs horses on the website GoFundMe had raised nearly $478,000 as of Saturday afternoon.

Another 29 horses died at a Sylmar ranch overrun by the Creek fire Tuesday. There have also been reports of dead or missing horses and ponies from small farms and ranches throughout the region.


Santa Ana winds moved the fires so quickly and so unpredictably that those fleeing had only minutes to leave. In some cases, horse owners said they had to choose between saving themselves and their animals.

Some owners won’t know the fate of their animals until evacuation orders are lifted and they can search their properties.



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