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By Samantha Childs
Pacific Sothebys International Realty 

Pacific Sotheby's International Realty agent Amelia Smith demonstrates how heroes are made


Last updated 4/16/2018 at 6:17pm

Amelia Smith is a life-long horseback rider who raised funds for the workers at San Luis Rey Downs.

The word "hero" often conjures up mental pictures of red flapping capes, over-the-elbow gloves and bold breastplate logos. But perhaps the accessories don't make the hero. Perhaps heroes are defined by something else.

Maya Angelou said, "I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people."

The recent California wildfire season was the worst in history. With over 1.3 million acres of the state ravaged by flames that destroyed homes and lives, it would be easy for everyone to be disheartened. But even clouds made of smoke can have a silver lining.

That silver lining is made of thousands of stories of heroism. Scattered like confetti through the stories of tragedy and loss are so many beautiful examples of humanity, compassion, selflessness and love. There are some things that fires can't burn.

One of these stories comes the experience of Pacific Sotheby's International Realty's agent Amelia Smith.

A life-long horseback rider, Amelia has had horses since she was 7 years old and is deeply involved in the San Diego equestrian community.

"I have many friends in the horse business and since we all share an intrinsic love for animals, they are some of my very favorite people," Amelia said.

And San Diego is an equestrian paradise, she said.

"When it's -3 degrees and snowing in Colorado, we are riding outside. San Diego is the perfect place to own and ride horses," Amelia said. When she rides, Amelia said she feels "unbridled (pun intended) joy."

Therefore, when the wildfires in San Diego struck San Luis Rey Downs, a racehorse boarding and training ground, it also struck her straight in the heart, she said.

The timeline of the Lilac fire was rapid. A tiny brush fire spotted off the highway in Bonsall, Dec. 7, became a roaring half-a-thousand-acres inferno within 15 minutes. The strong Santa Ana winds pushed the fire directly toward San Luis Rey Downs, which was home to approximately 500 horses and 200 employees.

The speed of the spreading fire gave the stable workers no time to evacuate horses by trailer. While flames blazed meters away, the stable workers fought to get the horses out of the barns so that they could run. The stable hands kept working as their own homes on the backstretch were catching fire. While saving the horses, three people were seriously injured. One was put into a medically induced coma after enduring second- and third-degree burns from running into a burning stall to save more horses.

In the end, 46 horses died, but over 400 horses were saved.

The workers were heroes, but now, they had nothing. Eight barns had burned. Everyone evacuated with only the clothes on their backs. Nearly half completely lost their homes – everything they owned had burned.

But their heroism inspired Amelia, she said. She was deeply moved by their selflessness and was determined to help them. Their loss reminded her of the loss of a close friend who had a career in the horse racing industry but who died a few years prior, she said.

"Helping them made me feel closer to Jacque, because it's what she would have done," Amelia said.

The workers were evacuated to the Del Mar Racetrack, down the street from Pacific Sotheby's International Realty's Del Mar office. The workers had nothing, she said. No toothbrushes. Nothing to sleep on. No warm clothes or heaters. Amelia wanted to buy $100 Walmart gift cards to hand out at the track.

"Many lost their homes and everything in them. Even those whose home didn't burn to the ground left the track with only the clothes on their backs and were completely displaced," Amelia said. "I knew their needs were great, and you can get anything at Walmart."

She reached out to her friends and fellow agents with a goal of raising $5,000. People immediately began donating. Within a few days, Amelia reached her goal – and surpassed it.

That weekend Amelia made numerous trips to the Del Mar Racetrack to meet the SLRD workers and hand out the gift cards. She described her experience.

"Their need was palpable, as was their gratitude," Amelia said. They "spread the word that someone was there to help them. They came from different barn aisles and began to tell me their stories of that day it happened. One woman told me she thought she was going to die. She grabbed onto me and sobbed while I held her."

Amelia said she felt, "grateful to the generous donors who reached deep to help folks they will never know. And relieved to know that some basic needs would be met for people who risked and lost everything to save the horses.

"I am definitely feeling the love for my co-workers and others who helped out," Amelia said. "It renewed my faith in humankind."


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