(Photo / San Diego Tribune)

(Photo / LA Times)

Back in the 1980s, I was hired as a free-lance writer by Keeneland Magazine. My assignment, awful as it was, was to do research and write about the horrific conditions that caused, and the traumatic, gut-wrenching emotions that care-givers felt and endured in the aftermath of barn fires.

In particular, I was retained to write about barn fires that happen on horse farms. I was hired to write about barn fires that happen to structures that house Thoroughbred horses. I was hired to write about barn fires that gut the very soul and tear at the very heart of every single person that loves the industry of Thoroughbred breeding and the sport of Thoroughbred racing.

I remember sitting in the Keeneland library, going through microfiche — that was a flimsy piece of tape where thousands of old newspaper stories were saved and stored and had to be viewed through a microscope-like device; in other words, a prehistoric view of life before there was an internet Google search engine.

I remember reading about the awful and horrific events, some of which were accompanied by old, black & white photographs.

And, after awhile, I remember lying my head down on one of the cheery work tables in the old Keeneland library, and crying. The tears welled. And, I couldn’t take it any more. I just couldn’t read or see any more.

(Photo / Mystatesman.com)

Today, I am reminded of that day by the awful, sad, tragic events that occurred on Thursday in Southern California. A brush fire, stirred and carried by the swirling and gusting Santa Ana winds, took aim on the San Luis Rey Training facility deep in the southern tip of the state and near Del Mar Racecourse. In minutes, the blaze engulfed the barn area, leaving trainers and backside workers scurrying from stall to stall in heroic and life-threatening attempts to save their horses; their friends.

The details trickled in last night. The reports getting worse by the moment. The pictures getting more sick by the second. The videos getting more horrific and terrifying with every Twitter post and news account. All one could do was hope. Hope that the horses were able to run to safety and flea into the night. Hope that the people there, willing to risk everything for their passion, would survive without injury.

But, today, in the ruins of those flames we are now left with more than just ashes.

We are left with images of horses too scared, too frightened to leave the safety of their own stalls, who perished.

We are left with the terrible visions of horses running wild onto the track, into the infield, anywhere they could run just too avoid the heat, the flames and the news that some of these majestic athletes had lost their lives due to injuries sustained in falls and collisions.

And, we now get the news of trainer Martine Bellocq, who was airlifted from the San Luis Rey Training Center in Bonsai, CA to UC San Diego Medical Center — where she is being treated for severe, significant second- and third-degree burns over nearly half of her body. Injuries she sustained while desperately trying to save her horses stabled there, and the horses of other trainers who could not get to the grounds.

According to the reports, mostly coming from the hands and words of the brave journalist Jeremy Balan and The Blood-Horse online accounts, Ms. Bellocq has now been placed in a medically-induced coma so that doctors and specialists can simply treat her and her conditions.

Martine’s husband, Pierre Bellocq Jr, also has been hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

These are awful times. For the people of Southern California. For so many people who have lost their homes, and possessions. For some people who have lost love ones.

These are awful times. For the people that owned horses that were stabled at San Luis Rey, and now don’t know if they are safe, sound, or where they may be.

These are awful times. For the trainers, grooms and others who tried and succeeded in saving hundreds of horses, and yet, tried, in vain, to help save others.

And, these are awful times for the Bellocq Family, who are now holding onto faith, hope, love and dear life. The Bellocq family has a long pedigree, deeply rooted in theindustry. Pierre and Martine are a husband and wife training team. Remi Bellocq, the brother of Pierre, is the director of the Bluegrass Community and Technical College Equine Program and contributes cartoons to The Blood-Horse. Pierre Bellocq Sr — “PEB” is a Jockey Club Medal winner for his contributions of the sport and the noted, recognized and highly acclaimed cartoonist for The Daily Racing Form.

Obviously, all of us back here in Kentucky, send our prayers, thoughts, and concerns to all of those suffering in these awful times. But we should do more, too. The Bellocq family encourages people to support the California Thoroughbred Horseman’s Foundation, which is planning on establishing a special fund for the horse people injured and impacted by this awful fire.

We will be sending a donation as soon as we can. We hope you will likewise.

But, as I sit here today, I remember so vividly the events of Jan. 5, 1985, when a fire accidentally ignited, started and consumed a barn at Airdrie Stud in Midway. Due to no fault of the farm workers or the family. Just an accident. An “act of God,” so to speak. A barn just down the hill from the farm office had caught fire, maybe due to lightning or an electrical malfunction. Before anyone could respond they had lost 15 horses.

Yet, they had lost so much more, too. They had lost tears. They had lost spirit. They had lost.

I remember talking with my good friend Brereton C. Jones, the former Governor of Kentucky and the owner, along with his beautiful wife Libby, of Airdrie Stud in Midway about the after-affects of living through that awful event.

I remember the strain in his words. I could see the pain in his eyes. I couldn’t imagine the feeling in his stomach.

“I don’t think you ever get over something like this,” he said to me at that time. “Horses, you see, aren’t something you do. They are something you live.”

Today, we mourn the loss.

Today, pray for recovery — especially for the Bellocq family.

Today, we give thanks to the Martine and Pierre Bellocqs of the world — all of those at San Luis Rey — for their dedication, sacrifice, humanitarian and herculean efforts.

You see, loving horses isn’t something you simply do.  It is something you live.