The images of race horses killed while trapped in their stalls during the California wildfires have celebrity animal rights advocates losing sleep and wondering how they can prevent tragedy from striking again.
Soap star and Los Angeles horse owner Tracy Melchior said she’s been glued to her television since the fires, which began a week ago in Ventura County, have spread throughout the southern part of the state.
“I was just bawling watching this,” said Melchior, a regular on “The Bold and The Beautiful.”
At least 46 races horses were killed at the San Luis Rey Downs thoroughbred training facility in San Diego — while dozens of others were let loose to flee into the wild — and another 29 perished at a ranch in Sylmar.
“I had to go hug my horse. I can’t imagine just turning her loose and saying, ‘Good luck! Hope you make it!”
Shane Barbi, one half of the Barbi Twins, said she’s also been suffering sleepless nights as she watches the stats pile up on horse deaths due to the fire.
“When I lived in Malibu, I’ve rescued horses in fires where I was so close that my hair and eyebrows were singed off,” said the model.
“It was like hell, it was so f—ing hot. There is nothing like hearing a horse scream from fire, you just want to die.”
Both Melchior and Barbi are calling for more regulations.
Barbi criticized San Luis Rey Downs for not having its own water tower or fire truck at hand when the fire ripped through their stalls.
“They have a pool, why not switch that for a water tank?” she asked. “This place has the money to buy a fire truck, the horses there are championship horses. And there didn’t seem to be any evacuation plan in place for something like this. Horses are pack animals, they get scared with wide open spaces. They run to places they know, even if it’s on fire. They need to be blindfolded or led out in a herd.”
San Luis Rey Downs declined to comment.
A day after the Dec. 7 tragedy, trainer Doug O’Neill told the Los Angeles Times: “It went from one minute being, ‘Yeah, we’re going to be OK,’ to ‘Oh, my God, what are we going to do?’”
Julie Atwood, founder of The HALTER Project, which trains emergency personnel on animal disaster preparedness and rescue, said horse deaths from fire are a preventable tragedy.
“People are angry and sad about these deaths,” she said. “The importance of having a plan and being prepared cannot be overstated. You can save a large number of animals all by sheltering in place and having a plan.”