WHITMAN COUNTY, Wash. — Fires during Labor Day weekend in 2020 devastated the Inland Northwest. In 36 hours, 500,000 acres were burning in Washington state, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Two communities were hit particularly hard. The Babb Road Fire nearly destroyed the towns of Malden and Pine City. More than 80% of all buildings in Malden and Pine City were destroyed in the fire. In total, 223 homes, businesses, barns and other structures were destroyed by the fires. Only eight out of the 20 homes in Pine City were still standing after the fire swept through the town.
Now, state leaders want to prevent anything like it from happening again.
"That tragedy is one that will live with me and frankly the warning we've been trying to tell the rest of the state for a very long time, that we have communities with very high wildfire risk and very limited resources in the air and on the ground," said Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.
The night of the fire there were 60 miles per hour winds across the Palouse. The National Weather Service issued Red Flag Warnings for the weekend.
Five months after the fire, FEMA approved public assistance for Whitman County to help rebuild after the fire. However, individual assistance was not granted. The fire did not meet the requirements under FEMA to receive it.
During the 2021 Washington State Legislative Session, Representative Cathy McMorris Rogers sponsored the Malden Act, which stands for the Making Assistance for Local Disasters Equal Now Act.
It requires three things:
- Require the president to act on a disaster declaration request within a specified period of time;
- Provide more support to rural communities awaiting a disaster declaration so they can get started on recovery; and
- Provide more support to individuals and families in rural communities if a request for Individual Assistance is denied, as was the case in Malden.
This means small communities can get support if denied by FEMA. The state legislature passed the bill during the 2020 session.
"Malden, we remember you, we are going to keep remembering you, we are going to do everything we can to help you rebuild and stay safe in the years to come. And we are going to make sure we're doing everything we can possible to make sure there are no more 'Maldens' in the state of Washington," Commissioner Franz said.