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caption: A welcome sign to Malden, WA. Founded in 1906.
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A welcome sign to Malden, WA. Founded in 1906.
Credit: Alec Cowan / KUOW

Listen again: A wildfire burned 85% of this Washington town. This is their recovery story.

If you had to rebuild your town, where would you begin?

It's a question that residents of Malden, Wash. have asked for months. The Soundside team checked in on Malden on labor day last year, one year after the disaster.

Today, we hear that story, plus a short update on recovery.

The towns of Malden and Pine City burned to the ground on Labor Day 2020 — 85% of buildings were gone. Residents were displaced. And federal relief was delayed for months.

About 400 residents lived in the two small, adjoined towns tucked in the hills of the Palouse of eastern Washington.

Hardly any firefighters were in the area on Labor Day.

“There were no trucks, no other response, because they were all fighting fires in other areas. It was that bad that day,” Malden Councilmember Scott Hokonson said.

When first responders and emergency management arrived on the scene, they looked for short term recovery solutions to move forward — shelter, food, and clothing.

Because most homes in the area are older, built when the railroad was the biggest industry in town, the area attracts those in search of wide open country and affordable craftsman housing. Many residents are on a fixed income, which means securities like fire insurance are out of reach. When the fire struck, they became completely dependent on outside help. A fire crisis quickly became a recovery crisis.

More than a year later, a handful of new homes have been built, and residents feel a renewed optimism in their progress.

Listen to the full-hour special on the one-year anniversary of the Babb Road Fire here.