Firefighters honored at Oakmont for extinguishing 2017 Rye Fire

Anderson Mackey Jr., assistant fire chief for the district, answers various questions asked by members of the Oakmont of Santa Clarita Senior Home Friday afternoon. Eddy Martinez/The Signal

As the Santa Clarita Valley continues to push through the summer fire season, firefighters who fought off the 2017 Rye Fire were honored by residents at the Oakmont of Santa Clarita senior living community on Friday afternoon.

Firefighters representing the different stations of the county Fire Department’s Division 3 answered questions about how to be prepared for a fire, what to do during fire season and when to be ready to evacuate. Assistant Fire Chief Anderson Mackey Jr. refreshed everyone about the fires that burned across the state in December.

Not long after the Rye Fire started, fire officials noticed it was going in the direction of Oakmont, prompting an evacuation of Oakmont’s residents.

Planning for Friday’s event started when Linda Auch, an insurance broker with Aon Risk Services, reached out to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which is one of her clients. Auch’s father lives at Oakmont.

“When the Rye Fire happened on that day, and my dad was evacuated, obviously it was a very scary day and Oakmont did a great job evacuating everybody, and then moved back in two weeks later,” Auch said. “It was after several months later I was actually with L.A. County Air Ops at the helicopter convention.”

From there, she worked with fire officials to organize a meeting at Oakmont to present the firefighters with a plaque and bundt cakes baked by Oakmont chefs.

“We live in Santa Clarita, we’re seeing smoke daily, so it was a way for us to thank them,” said Oakmont Executive Director Margie Veis. “But with it, our residents always want to learn and grow.”

Along with information on how to be prepared for a fire and an inevitable evacuation, Mackey and his colleagues explained what have been factors taken into consideration when evacuating people, including homeless people.

“The other issue we have, I saw a recent board memo that’s addressing this issue, is the homeless that are gravitating to areas,” said Assistant Chief Derek Alkonis. “And we have to manage that as well. There’s certain areas it’s been difficult for them to find housing, so that is also a topic that’s being discussed at the county level.”

The Rye Fire burned over 6,000 acres in December 2017 over several days. During a period of heavy winds, dry weather and red flag warnings, a spark from a downed power line started the fire, threatening over 5,000 structures and forcing residents across parts of the Santa Clarita Valley to evacuate.

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