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One year later: Flag that survived Babb Road Fire in Malden is retired

The Babb Road Fire ripped through the towns of Malden and Pine City on Labor Day 2020, destroying homes and businesses.
Credit: wolterke - stock.adobe.com

MALDEN, Wash. — Community members from Malden and Pine City came together this Labor Day to commemorate the Babb Road Fire that devastated their communities one year ago. 

More than 80% of the homes and buildings in Malden and Pine City were destroyed in the fire. In a shining moment of hope after the fire ravaged both the Malden post office and the fire station, the American flag still stood. 

On Monday, they gathered to retire the flag that flew over their town for the past year. A new flag, to mark a new chapter, was put up in its place.

The community gathered to look back at the challenges the past year brought. More than 200 residents left their homes to escape a fast-moving wildfire driven by strong winds. The towns they returned to were almost unrecognizable. Overall, the fire destroyed 223 homes, businesses, barns and other structures according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) report on the fire. In Malden, 67 homes were burned to the ground, 13 were lost in Pine City. 

Last year was one of the most devastating in Washington's history, the Babb Road Fire was one of 39 fires burning in the state. More than 500,000 acres burned in Washington State in just 36 hours. 

A DNR report released months after the fire identified a tree limb that fell onto an Avista powerline as a cause of this fire. The report suggests the 44-year-old tree should have been cut down before the fire. 

In the days after the fire swept through the cities, Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz toured Malden. After learning about the town losing its only fire engine during the fire, she promised to get them a new truck.

The next day, Gov. Jay Inslee visited Malden calling the destruction in the cities one of the most "traumatic events." 

Malden and Pine City both requested federal aid, but the Trump administration did not grant a major disaster declaration. Nearly five months after the fire, President Joe Biden approved federal aid to provide funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide disaster relief for nine counties and two tribes in Eastern Washington affected by the wildfires.  FEMA followed that decision by denying individual assistance to residents impacted by the Babb Road Fire

In June, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers introduced the Malden Act to expedite the deployment of disaster assistance to rural communities impacted by natural disasters. The act still waits on a vote in congress. 

Both towns continue their recovery. Franz followed through and secured a new fire engine for Malden. The disaster relief nonprofit, Team Rubicon, worked to clear dead trees that posed continued fire danger, and volunteers donated hundreds of trees to replant the forest that was lost.

Temporary laundry and shower facilities were recently installed, serving residents who are living in recreational vehicles and any visitors, volunteers, or workers in the area.

Efforts are underway to rebuild homes. So far charity organizations have rebuilt two homes for people that didn't have insurance and more are expected to be built this fall.