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Washington's governor requests federal assistance for Gray, Oregon Road fire victims

A home in Medical Lake Washington that was burned in the August 2023 Wanes Gray Fire.
Rebecca White/SPR
A home in Medical Lake Washington that was burned in the August 2023 Wanes Gray Fire.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has formally requested federal assistance for victims of the two wildfires that burned through Spokane County in August.

According to the governor’s office, the Wanes Gray fire, which burned in and around the community of Medical Lake, and the Oregon Road fire, which burned near Elk, destroyed more homes than any other fire in state history.

In addition to the deaths of two people, 447 homes were impacted, 369 were destroyed. Many residents don’t have homeowner’s insurance or were underinsured.

In his request for federal aid, the governor noted Spokane County’s population has an average lower income and higher unemployment rate than the state average. He said the magnitude of damage has overwhelmed state and local resources.

The letter formally asks President Joe Biden to make a disaster declaration and direct FEMA to authorize individual assistance to wildfire victims. He also asked for assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA to help safely clear debris and prevent water contamination.

Both Washington’s senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as Eastern Washington Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers have urged the president to authorize assistance.

“While Washington state’s first responders have reacted to these disasters promptly and heroically, the events triggered by the Gray and Oregon Road fires are quickly exhausting the already-strained capacity and resources of local communities and state agencies,” the three congresswomen wrote, “Consequently, we fully support Governor Inslee’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration for the Gray and Oregon Road Fires that includes Individual Assistance and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.”

Inslee also requested individualized assistance when the communities of Malden and Pine City, in Whitman County, were almost completely destroyed by wildfire in 2020. That assistance was significantly delayed by former President Donald Trump, who was feuding with the governor at the time.

If the request is approved, Spokane County wildfire victims who are uninsured or have inadequate insurance will have access to federal aid and other resources.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.