FEMA denies individual assistance for Malden wildfire victims

Feb 8, 2021

The town of Malden lost 80% of its homes in a Labor Day wildfire fueled by high winds and dry conditions.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio

Wildfire victims in Malden and Pine City will not receive individual assistance from the federal government to replace the homes or belongings they lost.

Most of the town of Malden was destroyed in a wildfire on Labor Day last year and recovery stalled for months after the Trump administration ignored calls for assistance from both Republicans and Democrats. Last week the Whitman County town was approved for public assistance which will allow them to rebuild public buildings, but was informed today they would not receive individual assistance.

Malden Mayor Dan Harwood called the decision misguided, saying many from the area lost everything in the fire and have very little resources to rebuild.

“It breaks my heart to have them receive this information," he said. 

According to the letter sent out by FEMA, the damage to individuals and households "was not of such severity and magnitude to warrant the designation of Individual Assistance."

The state has 30 days to appeal the decision, but leader of the local recovery effort Scott Hokonson said many have advised against appealing. He said it could delay recovery longer, and the community is very likely to be denied a second time. He said those working to rebuild the small communities will continue to do as much as they can with the resources they have.

“If we were to ask for reconsideration, it could take months before we hear back," Hokonson said. "We’ve been told in every single possible universe that decision would most likely be no. It’s not an easy choice to make, but we have to make the best choices we can.”

Hokonson said he was frustrated by the decision, but appreciated the public assistance the town will receive. He said his next focus will be on the Small Business Administration, which is scheduled to decide on whether the area will qualify for disaster loans in the next few days. If the community receives that designation, people who have lost their homes and belongings can apply for low-interest, low-barrier loans of up to $200,000 to rebuild.