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Family that lost home in Malden fire comes down with COVID-19

Officials estimate that 80% of buildings in Malden were destroyed by a fire that began Sept. 7. (Whitman County Sheriff's Office, Facebook)

As if losing your home in a wildfire was not devastating enough, a Malden family that lost everything this month is now also suffering from COVID-19.

The Graham family of seven — dad Matthew, mom Jessica, and their five children — is now quarantined in the two hotel rooms that became a temporary home after the fires that ravaged most of Malden.

The Grahams were away from home on the day the fires struck. Because of the record-setting winds that day, the fire spread so quickly that there was no time to go back for any of their possessions.

“We just left to go have a normal day away from home — we literally just had the clothes on our backs because we were going to be going home that night,” Matthew said.

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Luckily, the family dog and chickens survived. They also had most of their photos backed up online.

Unfortunately, very little remains of the house apart from the chimney. About 80% of the town of Malden was destroyed in total.

“It just swept through town and took everything out, pretty much,” Matthew said, noting that only a small handful of houses survived.

It was while they were staying with the children’s grandparents after their house burned that they became exposed to 2020’s other major disaster: COVID-19. They realized it after they had gotten into a Spokane Valley hotel — so now they’re stuck in two rooms.

The virus came on like a cold, but they soon realized what it was from the extreme amount of fatigue they were experiencing.

“One day, right after drinking a few cups of coffee, I went back and took a three-hour nap,” Jessica said. “I was that tired.

Staying in the small space with rambunctious children who are having an easier time with the virus than their parents is a challenge, but they are grateful that friends and family are bringing them meals.

“Quarantining in a hotel room with a very energetic, healthy-feeling 5-year-old is real fun,” Matthew laughed.

Through all this, the family members has kept their spirits up. They joke about wondering when the hurricane is coming since they’ve experienced every other natural disaster of 2020, and they laugh that they’ve always wanted to get rid of clutter and try out a minimalistic lifestyle.

“The last few years, I’ve been giving Jessica a hard time that we should start downsizing and stuff, and I finally got my downsizing — just a little bit more extreme than I was hoping for,” Matthew chuckled.

Focusing on the future is key to keeping attitudes positive, and getting excited about their new home.

“We just look ahead to the future, and we spend a lot of time thinking about what our new house will be like, things that we can do to make it better than what we had before, and having something to look forward to, imagining a better life,” Jessica said.

With the help of homeowners insurance, they’re already looking at homes. In the meantime, to help carry them through until that time, friends have set up a GoFundMe.

“If lying down and crying about it would get us a house, I would, but I just don’t see that as being a viable option — just lying down and crying until a house magically appears,” Matthew said. “We’ve just got to move forward to get through this.”

He recommends that everyone take a look at their homeowners insurance policy to make sure fire damage is covered. He noted that many people in Malden did not have fire as part of their policy.

“Overall, there is a light at the end of our tunnel. We are going to get through this, and nine months to a year from now we’re going to be great, but it’s going to be rough getting there,” he said. “But there are other people who had no fire insurance and lost everything.”

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