A rampaging forest fire in southern California killed 25 racehorses and destroyed top trainers barns last Thursday (7 December).

Dubbed ‘Lilac’, the fire spread rapidly through northeast San Diego quickly engulfing eight barns at the San Luis Rey (SLR) training centre in Bonsall where nearly 500 racehorses are stabled.

Horses were turned loose by stable staff to enable them to escape the rapidly spreading fires fuelled by hurricane force winds of up to 60 mph.

Racing staff and trainers risked their lives to free the horses from their stalls and herd them into the safer training track.

One trainer, Cliff Sise, told the local TV network he saw about 10 horses die, including his own filly.

In a statement the California Horse Racing Board confirmed “it is believed that approximately 25 horses perished in the fire.”

Most of the remaining horses were taken 35 miles south to Del Mar racetrack when it was deemed safe for the horse lorries to drive in.

At 7.30pm on the evening of the fire there were still 30 horses being evacuated and an unknown number remained unaccounted for.

In addition to the equine fatalities, trainer Martine Bellocq was badly burned trying to save her horses and was taken to hospital for treatment.

Racing at the Los Almaitos race course was cancelled last Friday (9 December) out of respect for the horses and people involved.

Trainers affected by losses include Peter Miller who had two Breeder’s Cup winners this year. Miller’s Boy, the trainer’s runner-up in this year race, was initially reported missing but was later found.

Top trainers Richard Baltas and Doug O’Neil also had horses involved.

All of Baltas’ horses have been confirmed to survived without any injuries.

On O’Neil’s Facebook page he said “We ask that you pray for all of us affected by this horrific event. Southern California horsemen need it right now. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all.”