Updated: Horses killed in Lilac Fire at San Luis Rey Downs

December 07, 2017 11:09am

A brush fire sparked Thursday near San Diego spread quickly to the San Louis Rey Downs training center that houses hundreds of racehorses, including those trained by Peter Miller, who won two races at this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

Personnel on site were faced with the option of opening stalls and turning horses loose to escape into open spaces. Trainer Cliff Sise 
told CBS' San Diego affiliate that multiple horses died in the blaze.

It's not immediately clear how many perished, though 
Austin Nakatani, the son of trainer Michele Dollase, told the Daily Racing Form that “it’s taken 75 percent of San Luis Rey Downs. There have been casualties. It’s not good.”

The number of horses on site at San Luis Rey measures in the hundreds, with those that were evacuated accepted at the Del Mair Fair Grounds about 30 miles South.

 WATCH: Groom frees horses in frantic scene at San Luis Rey

Just after 6 p.m. ET, an NBC San Diego reporter on site said those assisting in evacuation efforts at San Luis Rey "had panic in their voices" and were "begging for an extra facemask because they were overcome with the smoke." At least one fire truck was on site with helicopters hovering above.

Named the "Lilac Fire" by local officials -- Lilac, Calif., is close -- the blaze was 0 percent contained and had reached 2,500 acres in breadth as of Thursday afternoon due to high sustained winds. The nature of the fire isn't a constant burn, but breezes carry embers that create new burn patches.

Conditions resulted in a local state of emergency by the County of San Diego.

According to the facility's website, San Luis Rey is the only training track continuously approved by the California Horse Racing Board dating back to 1984 -- meaning horses can ship from there and race the same day.

Just Thursday, graded stakes winner Dressed in Hermes recorded a workout there, while horses conditioned by Doug O'Neill, Jerry Hollendorfer and other top California trainers have posted timed drills this week.


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