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How to Save Horses in a Fire: Let Them Loose!

11:22 AM PST on December 8, 2017

The deaths of 29 horses at Padilla Ranch in Sylmar in this week’s Creek Fire is still freaking a lot of people out.

The family owners told reporters they’ve begun receiving hate mail, while county animal authorities were forced to detail their response that Tuesday (Dec. 5) as the flames ripped into the horse ranch above the 210 freeway.

County animal care services said they got a call at 8:45 am that day for assistance at the ranch. They said they found some animals alive, but that some horses that died burned to death inside barns because they were padlocked inside their stalls.

Initial footage of the scene showed charred padlocked stalls where horses once stood. This detail will likely keep criticism piling up on the Padilla family, if not a few citations or lawsuits.

L.A. is a bit tense as fires spread across Southern California, in the cocktail of high winds and very dry conditions, from the enormous Thomas Fire in Ventura, to fires popping up in Orange County and San Diego. The Lilac Fire in north San Diego County erupted yesterday and is spreading down to Camp Pendleton.

Evacuations in that fire offered a glimpse of what to do with a bunch of large, athletic animals in your care and as flames and smoke begin approaching. Horse trainer Leo Tapia went live on Facebook as fire began to consume the San Luis Rey Downs, in Bonsall near Highway 76. Watch below what happens:

Tapia, who identifies himself as a native of Michoacan (from the community of Queréndaro) turns on just as an effort falls apart to corral the hundreds of horses into a central arena for safety.

Reports said horse handlers had actually attempted to do the same at Padilla Ranch.

But fires are wild and evil and there just wasn’t enough time to secure and evacuate the horses safely for everyone. About a minute-and-a-half into the video, Tapia, who is speaking mostly Spanish with that Southern California Mexican vibe to it, hears from a fellow Mexican worker who says, Let ’em loose.

The men, using paisa/homie slang, hurriedly get to work. For the next minutes, Tapia and others run into the boards, letting loose the horses. Crucially, stalls appear to be only latched, not locked. Some of the animals seem afraid to move, and Tapia pleads and shoos at them to get moving and to run. In the background, flames on a structure are already visible and frightened animals run in every direction.

Tapia reaches the back of the stable and begins to get consumed by the smoke, choking horribly, and runs out. Watch the whole thing, it’s pretty harrowing. Tapia’s clip is also going viral, with more than 8.6 million views as of Friday afternoon.

Horses still died at San Luis Rey Downs, reports said. The horses who were let loose as the Lilac Fire neared were calmed down enough to be safely transported to Del Mar and other locations.

And hats off to Leo Tapia, who shows us clearly how to save some horses in a fire emergency — paisa style.

* UPDATE: An estimated 25 horses died in Bonsall, although the circumstances were not fully known.

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