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CHRB grants extension until Jan. 31 for San Luis Rey sprinklers


Last updated 7/29/2021 at 2:17pm

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The California Horse Racing board granted the San Luis Rey Training Center an extension of the CHRB deadline to complete the automatic sprinkler systems and automatic fire alarm systems in the facility's older barns.

A 7-0 CHRB vote July 21 approved an extension until Jan. 31, 2022. San Luis Rey will provide the CHRB with monthly progress reports, and a walk-through of the facility will be conducted.

"I'm extremely pleased with what the Stronach Group has done there," said CHRB member Dennis Alfieri.

The San Luis Rey Training Center is in the process of installing fire sprinklers in the facility's older barns. The Stronach Group, which owns San Luis Rey, sought an extension of the California Horse Racing Board deadline to complete the automatic sprinkler systems and automatic fire alarm systems.

"We've been wanting to do it," said San Luis Rey general manager Kevin Habell. "Logistics have just been tough."

California Horse Racing Board Rule 1927 requires an auxiliary training facility to have a written clearance from the fire authority with jurisdiction which states that an inspection has been made of the site and that the facilities conform with a reasonable standard of fire safety.

The CHRB definition of "reasonable standard of fire safety" includes that facilities used to stable horses or to house humans are equipped with an automatic sprinkler system and an automatic fire alarm system and that a watchman patrol the facilities during hours of darkness. CHRB Rule 1927 also states that an entity whose stable area does not satisfy the "reasonable standard of fire safety" requirement may petition the CHRB for an extension of time to bring the facility into compliance.

The North County Fire Protection District conducted an inspection on July 31, 2020, and did not find any violations. The new barns which have capacity for approximately 200 horses have sprinkler systems, although the on-duty guard can call in the event of a fire and the proximity of the barns to the guard house allowed the fire district to approve a fire bell rather than an automatic fire alarm system.

The sprinkler systems and alert system are tested annually by the fire department. San Luis Rey has requested a 2021 annual inspection, although the fire district was not able to conduct one by July 21.

Issues involving the reaction to the coronavirus outbreak have delayed completion. "You can't get materials. You can't get the things that you need," said Alfieri, who professionally is in the building industry.

Work has commenced on the installation of the fire sprinklers and alarm system. San Luis Rey expects the work on the barns and living quarters to be complete by Dec. 31. The current completion estimate for the entire project which also includes the dining hall, bathrooms, the mechanic shop, and storage is April 30, 2022. San Luis Rey has been delayed in its stall renovation project due to the inability to procure plywood.

The August 2020 CHRB meeting included granting The Stronach Group an extension until July 31, 2021. On June 3, The Stronach Group requested an additional extension until Jan. 31, 2022. That was based on the estimate at the time to complete the barns and living quarters.

"They're now scheduled to complete the barn installation in late December," said Santa Anita Park President Nate Newby.

(The Stronach Group also owns Santa Anita Park.)

The extension request was on the agenda of the June 16 CHRB meeting, and the CHRB voted 7-0 to table the request until July 21 while requesting that The Stronach Group provide a report on the implementation plan and also provide additional details about the delays.

The current fire protection measures include fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, day and night patrol, and a water supply. Fire extinguishers are located every five stalls, hose cabinets and fire hydrants are located throughout the property, smoke detectors are also located throughout the property including sleeping areas and breezeways, and maps with evacuation routes and the locations of fire suppression equipment are posted throughout the property.

Four water tenders with fire suppression capability are stationed on the facility. Daytime and nighttime security personnel patrol the premises and watch for fire as well as unauthorized personnel. San Luis Rey has fireproof containers which can be used for hay storage if a fire is on or near the facility.

"They're well equipped for anything that breaks out," Alfieri said.

"All kinds of things have been done," said California Thoroughbred Trainers Executive Director Alan Balch.

Balch added that roofs have been replaced with fire-resistant material. "That is a tremendous improvement to the fire safety area," he said.

The December 2017 Lilac fire destroyed approximately 200 stalls at San Luis Rey and killed 46 horses. Newby noted that a sprinkler system doesn't protect against a wildfire and that vegetation clearance provides better protection against wildfires. "That's really an important factor," he said.

San Luis Rey has clearance practices as well as fire suppression equipment. "We've got a herd of goats," Newby said.

Approximately 35 goats ensure that vegetation on the premises does not grow to a fire hazard threshold.

"They've done a good job clearing," Alfieri said.

The California Horse Racing Board issued Kimberly Marrs a trainer's license in 2004, and including her years as an assistant trainer she has been at San Luis Rey since 2002.

"We are very well prepared," Marrs said.

"If a fire ever came through here again we would be fine, we would be able to handle it," Marrs said. "We're in really, really good shape here."

Marrs lost one horse in the Lilac fire and had two horses stabled at San Luis Rey on Dec. 7, 2017. She was also involved in the effort to evacuate other horses.

"The barns are fabulous. We have fire extinguishers everywhere," Marrs said. "Kevin's done an amazing job with fire suppression."

The extension until Jan. 31 allows San Luis Rey to continue as an auxiliary training facility for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club 2021 summer and fall meets. "It's very important to keep San Luis Rey open at full capacity," said Del Mar Thoroughbred Club President and Chief Operating Officer Josh Rubinstein.

CHRB member Oscar Gonzales proposed a walk-through of the facility by some of the CHRB members. "You could get a good feel for the situation," he said.

Gonzales noted that the walk-through would allow the CHRB members to verify the safety measures. "We want to be responsive," he said.

The material procurement and production for the fire sprinkler installation is in progress, and the final design and permitting are also in progress. Providing underground water and electrical service to all structures is in progress and is expected to be a 42-day process.

The underground water will provide a water pressure of at least 115 pounds per square inch static and 100 pounds per square inch residual with 1,000 gallons per minute flowing. Once the materials arrive the first barn which will have sprinkler systems installed is Barn H. Installation will take 21 days to complete in Barn H, Barn A, Barn B, Barn C, and Barn D. The installation will take 28 days to complete in Barn E and 35 days in Barn F.

Sprinkler systems will also be added to other areas. The installation of sprinklers in the tack room will take 14 days to complete, the recreation hall work has a timeline of 35 days, a seven-day completion period is expected for the restrooms, and 21 days apiece are anticipated for the auto repair and maintenance yard and for the hay and storage barn. A fire alarm panel will be installed and monitored by a third party as well as by staff.

"We're going forward," Habell said.


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