MALDEN — Along the rolling wheat fields and pine forested slopes of the Palouse, residents from the small towns of Malden and Pine City are slowly rebuilding one year after the Babb Road Fire left hundreds of residents homeless.

Community members gathered for an anniversary event on Labor Day to demonstrate resiliency following the traumatic event. Mayor Dan Harwood addressed the group of about 50 people near an empty lot that once housed the town’s fire station.

“We are recovering,” Harwood said. “But every time there’s smoke on the horizon our residents feel that anxiety and they’re frightened.”

On Sept. 7, 2020, wildfire driven by 60 mph winds destroyed 80 percent of all the homes and buildings in the farming town of Malden, including the post office, library and city hall. The recovery process has been slow and many survivors, with little or no insurance, are worried about spending another winter in small trailers on blackened plots of land.

Rather than moving on when her family of six lost everything, Vanessa Place made new plans. The concrete foundation for the family’s new home was poured in July.

“It’s been a very long year,” Place said. “The foundation was the first piece of rebuilding.”

State contractors completed efforts to clean up debris left by the fire Thursday, and a few new houses have been brought in.

The new chief of the Malden Fire Department, Chance Backest, said most properties were cleaned up at no cost to the owners.

“People are very resilient here and things are getting done,” Backest said. “It’s just taking a while.”

At the event, members of Pathfinders and Adventurers, a group similar to the Scouts, replaced the battered flag that once survived the flames with a new one. Charred pine trees loomed behind them during the brief ceremony

Richie Brower, associate director of club ministries at the Upper Columbia Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, said the old flag will be framed and placed in the new firehouse once it’s built.

“It’s part of Malden’s history,” Brower said. “There’s a lot of stories here.”

While progress has been made, Harwood says housing is still a priority. The town has been able to secure funding for infrastructure, but it’s been more difficult to meet individual needs.

Some residents have been unable to find contractors, and the cost of materials has soared.

“We appreciate all that has been given to us,” Harwood said. “Our town is healing.”

Palermo may be contacted at apalermo@lmtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter @apalermotweets.

Recommended for you