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. Confettied 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 Pacific Sotheby’s Realty’s super-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. She says, “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.” And San Diego is an equestrian paradise. “When it’s -3 degrees and snowing in Colorado, we are riding outside. San Diego is the perfect place to own and ride horses.” When she rides, Amelia 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 Amelia straight in the heart.
The timeline of the Lilac Fire was chilling. On December 7th, a tiny brush fire spotted off the highway in Bonsall became a roaring half-a-thousand-acres inferno within 15 minutes. There were strong Santa Ana winds and San Luis Rey Downs, then home to approximately 500 horses and 200 employees, was directly in its path.
The horrifying speed of the spreading fire gave the stable workers no time to evacuate horses by trailer. While flames blazed meters away from them, the SLRD stable workers fought to get the horses out of the barns so that they could run. The workers did this 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 2nd and 3rd degree burns when running into a burning stall to save more horses.
In the end, 46 of the horses died. But because of the stable workers, over 400 horses survived.
The workers were heroes.
But now, they had nothing. Eight barns had burned. Everyone had to evacuate with only the clothes on their back. Nearly half of them had completely lost their homes – everything they owned had burned.
But heroism is inspiring. One act of kindness can inspire another. It too can spread like wildfire.
The story of the workers inspired Amelia. She was deeply moved by the selflessness of these men and women who lost everything to save hundreds of horses. She was determined to help them. She thought of one of her closest friends who’d had a career in the horse racing industry and had died a few years prior. “Helping them made me feel closer to Jacque, because it’s what she would have done.”
The workers were evacuated to the Del Mar Racetrack, down the street from Pacific Sotheby’s Realty’s Del Mar office. The workers had nothing. 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. She said, “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… 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 and 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 describes her experience:
“Their need was palpable as was their gratitude… [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 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.” She continued, “I am definitely feeling the love for my co-workers and others who helped out. It renewed my faith in humankind.”
Looking back now on the recent wildfire season, it is a time of mourning and of celebration. We at Pacific Sotheby’s Realty mourn what we lost. We also celebrate all of the heroes of the fire and look towards the future with optimism and gratitude. We are so grateful for the firefighters. For the neighbors. For the strangers. For the workers at San Luis Rey Downs. And for our own super-agent, Amelia.
Amelia, you make this world a better place. You are a hero. You helped the SLRD workers when they desperately needed it before larger organizations and charities were able to mobilize. And you rallied all of us to make a difference.
Thank you for reminding us that, in our own individual way, each of us is a ‘Clark Kent.’ We all have a potential hero within us. We just need to go to our own inner superhero closets, dust off our mask, boots, and wristbands, and show the world what we are capable of.