As plumes of smoke billowed over San Luis Rey Downs and flames barreled toward eight barns at the high-end racehorse training facility in San Diego County, staff struggled to get nearly 500 thoroughbreds out of their stables and away from the flames.
Eventually, they had no choice: the burning barns were deemed too dangerous for vehicles with horse trailers to enter, so workers let the usually-pampered ponies, including some prized prospects for elite races like the Kentucky Derby, run for their lives.
It happened fast. The first flames of the Lilac Fire burst out at 11:15 a.m. on Thursday. Within hours it exploded into a 4,100-acre, out-of-control inferno that had rapidly burned a path to the San Luis Rey Downs facility, more than two miles from fire’s point of origin.
Hundreds of horses made it out safely, but there wasn’t enough time for others. At least 25 burned to death.
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