DEL MAR — About 850 animals, most of them horses, displaced by the Lilac fire were brought to the Del Mar Fairgrounds beginning around 3 p.m. on Dec. 7. They continued to arrive throughout the day and night and into the following morning.
Thoroughbreds and other breeds were housed in the 40-plus barns capable of holding as many as 1,600 horses. Other animals, such as goats and pigs, also were brought to the 350-acre state-owned facility.
“We’ve also had tons of volunteers, who have been incredibly helpful,” fairgrounds public information officer Annie Pierce said.
Donations have been large and small. Hay and bedding were delivered by the truckload. Costco donated hundreds of pounds of apples and carrots. Humane Society volunteer Nancy Brady brought six apples from a case she received from Washington.
“The fairgrounds always bucks up to help,” she said. “I’m an animal lover so I came down to sit and talk with the animals.”
Veronica Curro of Leucadia, who provides holistic rehabilitation for horses, came with Carmel Valley residents Cindy Roe and her 3-year-old, Palmer. The trio used a little red wagon to haul in more than 200 pounds of carrots and other produce.
Katie Cotroneo and Lindsey Tappia spent half the morning taking stickers off individual apples and filling buckets with produce.
Tappia, who lives in Del Mar, said she came to help because she “saw a need and wanted to fill it.”
“You help where you can,” she added.
“It’s giving back to the community,” said Cotroneo, an elementary school teacher in Bonsall.
Members of SeaWorld’s animal rescue team — some volunteering on their day off — were also on hand to help.
Many volunteers roamed the stables, going from barn to barn talking to the equines, trying to calm them with words, carrots and apples as some whinnied loudly and others banged the doors with their hooves.
Approximately 250 of the 450 horses that had been stabled at the San Luis Rey Downs training center in Bonsall, about 30 miles northwest of Del Mar, were moved to the fairgrounds after that facility was hit directly by the fire.
Kasey Rowe from Dove Hollow Dressage Center in Olivenhain drove there with two colleagues and together they transported 11 horses from the training center.
At least eight barns burned and approximately 35 horses died. One belonged to trainer Cliff Sise.
“It was dark, everything was hot and she wouldn’t come out,” he said. “I opened the pen and tried to get behind her and get her out, and she wouldn’t get out. She burned to death that quick.”
Thanks to social media, some horses from San Luis Rey that were set loose when the fire hit were reunited with their owners and trainers, including Richard’s Boy, which placed second in the Breeders’ Cup $1 million Turf Sprint at Del Mar last month.
Anyone who found a horse, is missing a horse or needs help identifying one can call the Los Al State Vets at (714) 820-2718.
The blaze broke out around 11:30 a.m. Dec. 7 on Old Highway 395 at Dulin Road in Bonsall. Throughout the day and night more than 1,000 firefighters, 100 engines and 15 helicopters fought to control the flames that were fanned by Santa Ana winds.
The fire encompassed 4,100 acres, destroyed 157 structures and damaged at least another 64. Six injuries and no human deaths were reported. The cause remains unknown.
A state of emergency for the area was declared by President Donald Trump and California Gov. Jerry Brown. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, in whose district the fire broke out, said anyone seeking help can call his office at (760) 599-5000.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Santa Anita Park, which is also taking in displaced horses until San Luis Rey is rebuilt, and The Stronach Group, owners of San Luis Rey Downs, established a GoFundMe page to help those impacted by the fire at the training facility.
Nearly $600,000 was raised by 4,655 people in three days. Visit www.gofundme.com/thoroughbredcare to donate.
“We’re here to help when a tragic situation like this presents itself,” DMTC’s president, Joe Harper, said. “With aid from our landlord, the 22nd District Agricultural Association, we’re going to begin serving as a training center … and will continue on that path for the immediate future as our industry puts the pieces back together again.
“The Del Mar Fairgrounds is a multiuse facility and we do have constraints on just how far we can go with this, but for the next several weeks, or months, Del Mar will be holding training for our Southern California horsemen,” he added.
“This is a horrific situation and everybody is trying to pitch in and do whatever can be done to make things better,” Tim Ritvo, Stronach Group’s chief operating officer, said. “The outpouring of support from inside and outside of our industry has been truly heartwarming. Together, we’ll get through this.”
Donations can also be made through the American Association of Equine Practitioners at https://foundation.aaep.org/disasterrelief or DMTC at https://www.dmtc.com/fire-evacuation.
For more information about the evacuation situation at Del Mar, call the fairgrounds at (858) 755-1161.