Inside Seven
Current Issue: April 2014
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Employee Spotlight
Larry Tiede, 21-year veteran highway maintenance worker, North Region.

Larry Tiede
by  Maria Raptis
Issue Date: 01/2009

A Veteran Roadworker on Some of District 7’s Toughest Roads, Faces The Ultimate Difficulty of Losing His Home And Belongings in the Sayre Fire

It’s a new year and that means a new start for one Caltrans employee, Larry Tiede.

While the new year finds many of us making resolutions for self-improvement and home improvements, Tiede, a 21-year veteran Caltrans Equipment Operator in the North Region, is looking forward to rebuilding his home and replacing personal belongings lost in the Sayre Fire of November 15, 2008.

The fire started along Sayre Street in Sylmar, just north of the Foothill Freeway (I-210), about 10:30 p.m. and burned west to the Golden State Freeway I-5. Eighteen hundred firefighters were assigned to the fire.

Tiede and his wife, Helen, lost their 2-bedroom, 1,700 square-foot home early in the morning of November 16. Their home was one of 487 modular homes in the Oakridge Mobile Home Park that was destroyed by the wind-blown fire, after it burned 9,500 acres and destroyed more than 630 structures through the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys. There were 608 homes in the mobile home park; 121 homes survived.

Friends, family and co-workers were the first to come to the aid of the Tiede's immediately following the fire’s aftermath.

His supervisor, Kelly Martinez, Area Superintendent Ed Toledo and Region Manager Wallie Jordan, have nothing but admiration for Tiede.

“Larry is a very hard worker who faces many tough situations and serious weather conditions especially on State Route 2 on Angeles Crest Highway. But to weather a destructive fire that took your entire home, vehicles and personal belongings takes complete bravery that we all admire. We are proud to have him on our team,” says Jordan.

“Many friends and fellow Caltrans maintenance workers from other regions really helped us out immediately with some basic and personal necessities. For that, Helen and I are very thankful,” says Tiede.

Now, Caltrans District 7 is calling for a division-wide appeal to assist the Larry Tiede family financially through the California Transportation Foundation (CTF) in Sacramento. The District’s Administration Division has set up an account through the CTF to assist the Tiede's in rebuilding their home and re-establishing some personal belongings. Contributions can be mailed to the California Transportation Foundation (CTF), 581 La Sierra Drive, Sacramento, CA 95864. Please include “Larry Tiede/Sayre Fire” in the memo portion of the check.

One item they will not need is a metal outdoor garden bench. That was all that survived the devastation.

“The bench is all that’s left. I took it to my mother’s home until we can re-build,” says Helen Tiede in her native-born Scottish accent.

But their luck is turning around. The Tiede's found temporary residency in an apartment complex along with many others who lost homes in the ‘park.’ On December 13 morning, just one month after the fire, Helen saw a flyer on her door step saying that The Ellen (Degeneres) Show is dedicating a show as a tribute to victims of the recent southern California fires. Someone had a ticket to join the studio audience for Helen. Despite the bad weather that day, and with no time to tell Larry her plans, she was on her way to the Burbank studio. Not knowing what the day would bring. A production staff member of The Ellen Show asked each person for the short version of their ordeal through the fire and its aftermath. Helen obliged. The producer told her to stay put; Ellen was going to interview her.

A video clip of Helen’s appearance on the show that aired on December 17 is available on www.youtube.com as well as a few before and after pictures of her home that Helen had in her wallet. The scene played out like this. Ellen Degeneres is with microphone in the audience and says that she is so moved by all the stories of the Southern California fire victims who were present that day.

“I am so moved by all of you. It breaks my heart,” said Ellen. “But I want to talk to one person especially. Helen Tiede.”

Helen stands up and tells her story.

“At about 10:30 at night, my neighbor called and said there was a fire. So we went outside. By 1:10 in the morning, the police came to tell us to evacuate. We were out in 10 minutes. We lost everything including a motorcycle and truck and my daughter’s wedding pictures. By 6 a.m., we realized our house was gone.”

Then Ellen said, “The holidays are going to be tough for you. But you know you can buy almost anything on QVC if you call and order. But I don’t think they have this item. This might make you feel better and save you lots of money,” said Ellen and she handed Helen a car key.

The curtain opened on a brand new, $20,000 blue Smart Car with a big red bow on top as a gift to Helen and Larry from The Ellen Show.

As Helen sat in the car, both stunned and happy, Ellen said, “I wish I could do more. I wish I could do this for everyone.”

The Tiede's are now in the process of listing all of their belongings for their home-owner’s insurance policy coverage and shopping for comparable replacements. By March, a group of friends and neighbors will be taking a road trip to mobile home showrooms to pick out new manufactured homes. Perhaps by then, there will be a few pictures of a new home for all to see.