By Ken Striplin
It has now been several weeks since devastating fires tore through neighboring Southland communities in early November. For the families who lost their homes, the journey to recovery and rebuilding is just beginning. For our local firefighters who spent weeks on the front lines, they are now transitioning back to their regular duties in Santa Clarita.
I had a chance to chat with our Assistant Fire Chief Anderson Mackey about what his days look like when faced with incidents such as the Woolsey Fire.
Mackey’s area of responsibility includes all of Santa Clarita, but also stretches north to Gorman, south to the Interstate 5 and 14 Freeway split, east to Altadena and west to Chatsworth (Lake Manor). This area to the west is near where the Hill Fire and the Woolsey Fire broke out Nov. 8.
Mackey and the entire Los Angeles County Fire Department, were already on high alert because of the red flag warnings that were issued due to strong Santa Ana winds and dry conditions. He was in East Los Angeles at an operations staff meeting with all the other department chiefs when the fires began.
Once he arrived on scene near the 118 Freeway and Rocky Peak Road, to take command of his resources working the Hill Fire, it became clear that the Woolsey Fire was going to be the bigger challenge.
The first priority for our fire partners is to protect life and property. In the case of this fast-moving fire, Chief Mackey’s first responsibility was to develop a plan for evacuations. With winds constantly blowing at 30 miles per hour and above, he mapped the canyons throughout Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Agoura Hills and other nearby communities that were in the fire’s path.
Chief Mackey explains that the goal of the evacuation branch is to get people to safety in a timely manner to limit congestion on local roads. Most residents want to wait until it is absolutely necessary to leave, but at that point the fire is already nipping at their heels, and while they are trying to get out – fire engines are trying to get in to protect their homes. This is why Chief Mackey emphasizes the importance of being ready to go, and to get out as soon as possible when the evacuation order is given. This makes the firefighters’ dangerous job, easier.
I want to thank Chief Mackey and all of the brave men and women who helped battle these dangerous fires. I also want to take this opportunity to remind all of our residents to visit L.A. County Fire’s “Ready Set Go” website at www.fire.lacounty.gov.
By being prepared and working together we can help lessen the impact a wildfire would have on our community.