Records reveal history of fire code violations at San Luis Rey Downs

NORTH COUNTY (KGTV) - A Team 10 investigation reveals details about the history of fire code violations at San Luis Rey Downs Training Center, where 46 horses died and three people were injured in the Lilac Fire.

We also have never-before-seen cell phone video of the devastation at San Luis Rey Downs, taken by a source who shared it with us. We’ve blurred the graphic shots of dead horses on the ground.

Team 10 requested records of fire inspections from the fire marshal who oversees the facility. References in the earliest report note violations dating back to 2005, which show multiple issues related to fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, exit doors and stairs, hazardous materials, flammable liquids and so on.

The violations were always repaired, but they appeared to keep happening. The most recent inspection from March of 2017 showed that the facility had no reported violations. Team 10 interviewed North County Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Patricia Koch, who is in charge of these inspections.

We asked Koch if she had any concerns, given that the inspection reports showed violations happening year after year. “They did have [violations] come up but they're always quick to comply and fix whatever violations have been noted,” she told us.

Koch added that while the list of violations may look long, it’s actually not, and most of the violations were related to routine maintenance. “If you're looking at the Lilac fire, none of these had anything to do with their losses. None of these violations,” she told us.

Questions had also been raised as to whether the facility had fire sprinklers. In a letter, North County Fire Protection District’s Chief Stephen Abbott wrote, “The facility had fire extinguishers, however no fire sprinklers, as none were required at the time of the original building construction."

By law, the facility did not need to have them. Yet the Humane Society of the United States firmly believes in retrofitting all stables and barns with sprinklers.

By phone, 10 News spoke to the Crystal Moreland, California State Director and Prevention Cruelty Campaign Director for the Humane Society of the United States. She told us, “It's the most life-saving thing that you can do for these animals is to have sprinkler systems [and] fire suppression,” and, “we need to think proactively and make sure that we have the best precautions possible in these facilities for large animals.” Dr. Natasha Lefkowitz is a veterinarian with the Escondido Humane Society.

She helped with horse rescues during the Lilac Fire and says many barns and stables around San Diego still don't have sprinklers.

“It might be something that we all need to open our eyes to and kind of wake up to [and see] the real fire hazards here and I hope that this did that,” she told us. Dr. Lefkowitz said she believes that the people who work at the Downs care deeply about the horses and their safety.

She added, “The financial piece of who is going to pay for [sprinklers] is always the issue in the equine world.” We repeatedly tried to talk to the general manager of San Luis Rey Downs about the violations. 

He requested that we share fire inspection reports with him, which we did, and we are waiting for his response. We’ll share that with viewers when we get it.

The California Horse Racing Board has decided to do a review of fire code inspection procedures and safety plans at San Luis Rey Downs and all other major track and training facilities in the state.

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