‘I had nothing’: Malden wildfire victims reflect on lessons learned in tragic day

MALDEN, Wash. – Imagine the things you worked so hard for turn to ash in just a few minutes. Families in Malden experienced a tragic fire eight months ago, they’re still trying to rebuild, but there are still some things they will never get back.

It took decades for Rachel Blakeley to build her life, her home in Malden. It took only minutes for a fire to take it all away.

“I had nothing, nope,” she told 4 News Now.

On Labor Day in 2020, Rachel Blakeley’s son told her to grab the things she couldn’t live without when the Babbs Road Fire made its way to Malden.

“I’m like, ‘Well, that’s you and the kids, so we’re good.’ Only, I didn’t grab anything. At the time you think that’s all that matters, and it is all that matters, but then you don’t have anything,” she said.

She left with her kids, purse and dog. No clothes, no important papers, not even the little pictures she loves of her kids. It all turned into rubble and ash.

“You don’t think of it as something you have to have, but it’s something that’s irreplaceable, and you’re sad later that they’re gone,” she said.

What should she have done differently now looking back?

The little things she collected over the years of building her life in Malden, those were the things Blakeley wished she grabbed.

“Because the memories they bring back are the importance and that’s the hard stuff,” Blakeley said. “Those little pictures and those little heirlooms that you can’t replace are the ones that need to be on your list of things you need to grab. The little things that will make you cry.”

Blakeley ended up staying in a hotel for two months after the fire. She’s now staying in an RV until she gets her life rebuilt. She hasn’t figured out when she will rebuild her home yet, but she plans on staying in Malden.

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While Blakeley walked away with nothing, just a few blocks down, it took Heather Van Dyke 15 minutes to grab whatever she could. But, she still had to leave too much behind.

“Had to leave everything we’ve worked for at home,” she told 4 News Now.

She packed the important papers, IDs, medicine and some clothes. Those are the things people should grab or have in a go-bag.

READ: Using the Red Cross as a resource during wildfire season

Van Dyke knew want to do, working right next to Whitman County Emergency Management. She puts together an exhibitor guide for the fair, and in that pamphlet, it talks about emergency management. She was prepared. But, she still had little left after the fire. Even though she had the things she absolutely needed, that day and the things that happened burned a hole in her heart.

“It is probably the worst thing I can imagine, other than a death of a family member, going through,” she said.

The town is on the mend though. Slowly, but surely, families like Blakeley’s and Van Dyke’s are rebuilding the lives they once had. They now hope other people will be prepared in an emergency.

“We’re rebuilding, and we’re going to make it through,” Van Dyke said.

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READ: How to protect your home from wildfires before they start