Rebuilt San Luis Rey Training Center reflects on progress in year since Lilac Fire

BONSALL, Calif. -- The San Luis Rey Training Center has come a long way since the Lilac Fire tore through exactly a year ago.

In the fire, 46 horses were killed and eight barns were destroyed.

“It’s pretty emotional, you know,” General Manager Kevin Haybell said.

Haybell said he was in Las Vegas when he got an unwanted phone call last December 7.

“They called me at 11 in the morning and said there’s a fire about five miles away,” Haybell said.

As the Lilac Fire inched closer, he hurried back to help. Haybell said he and a team of about 10 others stayed behind, fighting flames for hours, until the last horse made it out safely.

“Everyone here. We’re a little family so it’s like watching your own place burn down just in flames and you’re just like, how is this happening? It’s not real. It’s real. It’s not real. It’s real,” Haybell said.

Three people were injured while saving horses, including Martine Bellocq, who suffered burns to over 50 percent of her body.

“Good recovery. They’re all coming back and going forward,” Haybell said.

Together they have made a lot of progress in the past year. The horse training facility is almost complete with new barns and upgrades.

“We put in extra fire hoses, extra fire extinguishers," Haybell said.

There are a lot of new things to look at, but they are not forgetting the old. Out of some of the rubble left behind a horse shoe planter was built and a piece of land the fire left untouched has been turned into a memorial. It is a place where people go to remember what was lost and to  honor those who risked their lives to save 450 beloved horses.

“You’ve been through a catastrophe together so it does bind you," Haybell said. "You know we went through it. Made it through it. Fought through it and we did it all together arm in arm."

Right now, Haybell said about 250 horses are staying at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but they are expected to return home soon and after that those at San Luis Rey plan to celebrate their progress together as a family.