By JENNIFER MADRIGAL
Eastvale – If you grew up in or around Eastvale and Mira Loma, then you probably have fond memories of seeing the gorgeous horses running along the miles of white fences that used to surround the Mira Loma Thoroughbred Farm. The 100-acre property located just east of the 15 Freeway on Bellegrave and Wineville streets, was officially sold in 2005 for industrial development, but remained somewhat intact until April 19.
The once glorious home on the property was used in a variety of training and fire exercises by Cal Fire throughout Easter week, and was ultimately engulfed in flames. Eastvale residents were warned about the smoke and given updates throughout the week, but the final sight of the house being consumed caused many to reminisce. Tiffany Howard, an Eastvale resident who grew up in this area said, “I grew up wanting to live there and will miss that house”.
According to the June 2005 issue of Blood Horse Magazine, the Southern California real estate boom that peeked in 2005 was one of the main reasons that the popular thoroughbred farm shut down operations. The Mira Loma Thoroughbred Farm was purchased by Pete Valenti and partners from Verne Winchell in 1977, and nicknamed “Little Calumet” by Valenti. In its peek it was home to nearly 400 horses per year with about 100 foals born there annually.
Famous for its glistening white fences and red-roofed barns, it was a sight that many remember passing on the 15 Freeway. According to real estate reports, it housed a state-of-the-art training center with 124-stall barn and a five furlong training track, which took up 25 acres in the southeast corner. Besides its beauty, the farm raised many champions, but none as famous as Larry the Legend, owned and trained by Craig Lewis. During Legend’s career earnings of $652,825, he won three consecutive stakes at Santa Anita and according to track records, also earned Horse of the Meeting honors. Other famous horses like Native Storm, King Glorious, Valiant Pete and others also spent time at the Mira Loma Thoroughbred Farm.
Pete Valenti passed away unexpectedly in 1998 after undergoing heart bypass surgery and the ranch was left in the care of his wife and four children. When house values began to rise and the property‘s value escalated, it became difficult not to sell and according to Larry Lewis in an interview in the June 2005 issue of Blood Horse, they had to find a place to relocate the horses within a few weeks.
After the property was sold in 2005 it was occupied by various people, but the structures began to fall into disrepair. Cal Fire had been eyeing the property for the last month, and approached the developers about using it as a training facility. As soon as the current occupants left, Cal Fire was able to get in and begin the process of clearing out the carpet and plastics as required by the Air Quality Management District (AQMD). Cal Fire was granted just ten days to conduct all of their prep and exercises, so coordination and efficiency were important.
Tony Mecham, Division Chief with Riverside County Cal Fire said that training exercises began as soon as the property was ready. Firefighters from Rubidoux, Lake Elsinore, Jurupa Valley and Eastvale were all able to get live fire training. Mecham said, “That’s over 150 firefighters that we were able to get through the exercises in six days. This exercise provided an excellent opportunity for all of them”.
In addition, the vast amount of clear space around the structure made it the ideal place to house these training exercises. They came to a conclusion when the structure was completely engulfed in flames and allowed to basically burn down. Usually these training exercises end with demolition, but, according to Mecham, the fire got a little out of control and the decision was made to pull the firefighters out for safety and allow the structure to burn down.
According to the Jurupa Valley City Hall, no permits or plans have been made for the large parcel of land. The property is owned by IDI Development and the area is still zoned for industrial use, so there is a good chance that something will appear in the not too distant future.
Although the massive amounts of smoke and large flames could be seen from the 15 Freeway, causing many traffic delays, the experience for firefighters to be a part of such a unique training experience was unparalleled. For some Eastvale residents this property will be missed, but others feel that the training exercise really helped increase their respect for firefighters. Eastvale News Facebook friend, Julie Eskandari, expressed it best by saying, “Seeing these pictures really makes me admire our firefighters even more. Only the bravest men and women would choose to enter that [structure]”.