Robert Troeger couldn't escape the proximity and immediacy of the nearby Complex fires as he drove away from Santa Anita Park late in the afternoon of June 22.
"We've got a front-row seat for the air show," said the former trainer, who now serves as Santa Anita's stable superintendant, as he watched DC-10 airplanes drop flame retardant on the San Gabriel Mountains that overlook the Arcadia, Calif. racetrack.
The fires, which have burned through nearly 5,000 acres since June 20 according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, have come up against many horse farms in the San Gabriel foothill communities like Duarte, Monrovia, Azusa, and Bradbury—and the effort to shelter horses being evacuated from those areas has been a concerted one.
Santa Anita has taken in 40 horses from the evacuated areas, according to Troeger. Renee Hernandez, a spokesperson for the now-closed racetrack at Fairplex Park in Pomona said they currently have just less than 200 horses on the grounds.
"Thank God Pomona is still there to help us out," Troeger said. "We'd be in a very bad situation. They took 190 horses and we don't have the capacity in our barn area. Right now we have 20 open stalls and 13 horses are shipping in tomorrow for races. If not for Pomona, we'd have horses tied to trees here.
"We're all in this together. Horse people, we all stick together. It's a very small family, but it's a great family. Anything we can do to help, we'll do."
Hernandez added that Fairplex has made 350 stalls available in case the need to house more horses or other large livestock should arise.
"We don't have horse racing here anymore, but we were more than happy to open the stables when we heard about the fires," Hernandez said. "The community businesses all came together and donated some feed that first day. It was a little hectic, but the horses didn't notice it. They're fine and comfortable."
Trainer Matt Chew and his wife, Candace, had some retired racehorses stabled at Encanto Equestrian Center in Duarte, which sits just southwest of Fish Canyon, where some of the fiercest flames have raged. Chew said the farm lost two corrals to the fire, but most importantly all 54 horses stabled there were evacuated safely.
"It got pretty hairy. At one point we were surrounded by flames," Chew said. "Just about every facility in the area that has room is offering accommodations. It's nice to see everybody in the horse community pitching in. We called (Bob) Hubbard Horse Transportation and said we were in trouble, and they sent two big rigs right away. Then we called our friends and everyone showed up. What looked like a daunting task was actually quite smooth.
"At any facility like Encanto, you have different trainers competing for time, rings, and anything else, but all those disputes disappeared when the crisis was on—all that was brushed aside so we could get the horses out safe."
As of Wednesday afternoon, local authorities reported 10% of the fires were contained. Some residents in Duarte have been allowed to return to their homes, according to the Tribune.