Horse trainer recounts Lilac Fire as it took over San Luis Rey Training Center

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DEL MAR, Calif. – A few days after the devastating Lilac Fire sparked in northern San Diego County, a horse trainer described the difficult decisions made to try to save the lives of many horses.

The death toll for horses at San Luis Rey Downs Training Center affected by the Lilac Fire rose to 46 Saturday, according to California Horse Racing Board officials.

Linda Thrash is the assistant trainer for Little Red Feather Racing. She said she had to make the decision to free their 39 horses or they would die from the flames.

“Some hay, some shavings and a couple outside pens started on fire and it got obvious that it was more than we were able to keep up with. That’s when we decided we have to get them out of here,” said Thrash.

In the end, two of their horses were injured, including a 2-year-old unraced horse with a promising future named Oddsmaker. The other horse, a filly named RiRi that won its share of races.

Thrash said Riri was initially unaccounted for but was later found. Both horses went down from their injuries after being free and despite efforts to save them they didn’t make it.

Thrash had big concerns about letting the horses go free, but knew the terrible outcome if she didn't. She says after being told by firefighters an hour prior to evacuate she and others stayed to get the horses out. They called for trailers that were on the way, but the flames came too quickly and grew too fast.

“It got to the point where one of the very last horses we got out of his stable stall was right across the shed row from a stack of hay fully engulfed in flames and the horse was scared," she said. "They feel safe in their stalls and he wanted to stay in his stall and it took a lot of work to get that one horse to come out."

Little Red Feather Racing has 32 horses at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and five other horses are at a private training center. Thrash said it will be a few months before they can return to San Luis Rey Training Center, due to a lack of barns and stables destroyed by the fire.