Biden administration approves major disaster declaration, wildfire aid for Washington

Feb 5, 2021, 8:36 AM
Malden, wildfire aid...
A service station that was destroyed by a wildfire is shown Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Malden, Wash. High winds kicked up wildfires across the Pacific Northwest, burning hundreds of thousands of acres and mostly destroying the small town of Malden in eastern Washington state. (AP Photo/Jed Conklin)
(AP Photo/Jed Conklin)

Five months after a wildfire destroyed the towns of Malden and Pine City, President Joe Biden approved federal aid for the those communities and other areas of Eastern Washington that were burned by fires last year.

History in flames in Whitman County as fires decimate former railroad town, iconic bridge

More than 85% of the buildings in Malden and Pine City, both in Whitman County, burned to the ground in the Babb Road Fire in September 2020. The Department of Natural Resources also donated a surplus fire engine to Malden in December after the town’s fire station and its own fire engine was destroyed in the fire.

“I will never forget the devastation I saw first-hand in communities like Malden and Pine City — nor how frustrating it was to see federal aid withheld for so many months,” said Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands, in a written statement. “While these communities are in the beginning phases of recovery, this long overdue support is a crucial step toward helping residents rebuild their lives and livelihoods.”

“While this relief is welcome news, it is also a reminder we need to do more to address our wildfire crisis,” Franz continued. “I urge the state Legislature to fully fund the wildfire response, forest restoration and community resilience work needed to fight, prevent, and recover from wildfires across our state.”

Gov. Inslee: Recent fires in Washington are ‘not natural,’ ‘not an act of God’

As a release from FEMA explains, federal disaster assistance for Washington is intended to supplement state, local, and tribal recovery efforts in the areas hit by wildfires last September. The approved federal funding is available on a “cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by wildfires and straight-line winds for Douglas, Franklin, Kittitas, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Whitman, and Yakima counties and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.”

There are also funds available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Governor Jay Inslee had previously requested federal disaster relief for this past summer’s wildfires, but an aide to a Spokane congresswoman told the Spokesman-Review that former President Trump withheld federal money because of his personal dislike of Gov. Inslee.

“No one should play politics with disaster relief,” said Senator Maria Cantwell in a written release. “Now it is time to help Malden rebuild with this disaster declaration, which makes FEMA resources available to communities to help rebuild things like roads, bridges, and power lines.”

Some residents say their clean-up and rebuilding has been on hold while they waited for the money.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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Biden administration approves major disaster declaration, wildfire aid for Washington