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Residents of Malden, WA finally see tangible rebuilding results after 2020 wildfire

Geoffrey Roth/Northwest Public Broadcasting
One of six new homes ready for occupancy in Malden

Six homes built by missionaries will soon open.

Some of the vacant lots singed by the wildfire that roared through the southeastern Washington town of Malden are now covered by new homes.

Malden was devastated by wildfire on Labor Day in 2020. What came to be known as the Babb Road fire burned more than 15,000 acres and 80% of the homes in the town of roughly 200 people.

Recovery has been slow, due in part to disaster relief related bureaucratic hurdles. But things are picking up, thanks to grants and the help of some house-building missionaries.

Mayor Dan Harwood says Malden is recovering, thanks to a multitude of volunteers and organizations.

“The Western Anabaptist Missionaries started on January 3 and built six houses," he said.

A grant from the Red Cross helped fund the building materials. After inspections are done in the next two weeks, residents will be able to move into their new homes.

Many Malden residents still live in temporary housing.
Many Malden residents still live in temporary housing.

Other residents have opted for modular homes, and have been waiting a year or more due to supply chain issues. Many residents are currently living with friends, in apartments, or in RVs. Out of 67 houses lost, Harwood says 18 have been rebuilt.

Gerry Bozarth with Spokane County Emergency Management has been helping community members navigate their recovery process. He said, unfortunately, recovery work can be slow.

“We’ve just got so many factors, you know. We’ve had the COVID situation. We had the delay in federal assistance. We had, you know, weather issues,” he said.

Bozarth said many residents didn’t have the resources to rebuild. Those that did had to compete for a small pool of construction workers who were hampered by a lack of building materials. Despite the challenges, Bozarth said he’s seen a lot of progress thanks to the support of so many communities across Washington.

Geoffrey Roth/Northwest Public Broadcasting
Malden Mayor Dan Harwood has overseen the rebuilding of his town since the wildfire roared through in 2020.

A single wide trailer currently serves as Malden's city hall. A large colorful map sits on a stand just inside the door. Harwood points out some of the planned improvements, where the town's community and municipal buildings will be located. He says Malden will soon get a new U.S. Post Office.

It will also be home to a new fire training center. In preparation for the upcoming fire season, Harwood said he’s working with the Washington Department of Natural Resources and other government agencies to plan for the possibility of future fires. He says they’ve cut down damaged and burned trees, built the new homes with metal roofs and siding to resist fire, and are putting gravel around each residence.

On a trip down Main Street, Harwood points out other landmarks.

“Here’s our little park. We've got a tool shed with tools that are donated,” he said. “But on the other end of town, there’s nothing left on that. So, this house was beautiful. Gone. Gone, gone, gone.”

One of the new houses built by the missionaries will soon be occupied by veteran Mark Butler. Like many residents, he returned after the fire to find his house gone.

“Normal burned out house, you can see where the house was. This was a pile of ash," he said.

His new two-bedroom home sits on the land where his old house once stood. Appliances have already been installed.

“This house is a godsend from the whole community," Harwood said.

Malden residents have been able to raise money for recovery efforts from donations at

Overall, Harwood says he’s proud of the progress Malden has made.

“If I had a message for people it’s don’t forget us. We may not be in the media all the time, but we’re coming back," he said.

To anyone curious to see the progress with their own eyes, Harwood welcomes folks to visit anytime.

Raised along the Snake River Canyon in southern Idaho, Lauren Paterson reports on culture and socioeconomics in the Pacific Northwest. Her stories focus on working class and tribal communities.