Malden man rebuilding life, joins lawsuit against Avista 18 months later

MALDEN, Wash. – Eighteen months later, Malden and Pine City families are fighting to rebuild their lives from the devastating Babb Road Fire.

Shane Blakeley lived on a 14-acre lot in Malden for 22 years. He was surrounded by quiet, trees and sometimes some animals coming through.

That was all ruined by the fire.

“I bought that. It was raw land. I built it. It’s tough sometimes,” he said getting emotional.

On that Labor Day in 2020, Blakeley didn’t think the fire would be heading toward his home. His son told him about it, and Blakeley thought the canyon near them would stop it, but the fire kept moving.

His dog eventually was whining and getting nervous. When Blakeley went to let his dog out, he saw the ashes flying.

“The wind was going really fast so I knew I didn’t have time to do much. I just grabbed a bunch of clothes, I grabbed my dog and a couple of personal belongings really fast and headed out,” he said.

The life he built for more than two decades went up into flames in just minutes. He joined a lawsuit filed by John Allison of Eymann Allison Jones PS and Shawn Caine with the Law Offices of Shawn E. Caine to get some sort of reparation.

A total of 44 people and businesses, which translates to more than 27 households, are suing Avista.

RELATED: Malden, Pine City families sue Avista for damages from Babb Road Fire

Lawyers representing those families claim Avista is at fault, saying the utility company did not maintain its trees around a power line. The Department of Natural Resources investigated the cause of the fire, which it says a diseased tree fell onto the powerline that started a fire that ripped through the towns.

“Avista had the obligation to monitor and inspect its lines, identify this tree as a serious problem and failed to do that,” Allison said.

It’s a multi-claimant lawsuit where each person will prove their own case and will receive their different reparations if they win, Allison said.

“We’re here to basically compensate our clients and get them in a position to where they were before the fire started most of these people lost their homes,” Caine said.

Avista released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

The events on Labor Day 2020 and the losses that residents of Malden and Pine City experienced as a result were devastating, and Avista has been and continues to support and partner with these communities on the recovery. Since the initial restoration efforts began immediately following the fire, Avista has served as a steady supporter, facilitating connections, helping to build capacity, convening people and organizations and much more that has contributed to the community’s ability to access funding and move toward rebuilding in tangible ways. The resilience of the community and the progress achieved through perseverance and collaboration has been remarkable.While we have not seen and were not aware of a filed lawsuit, Avista will participate and cooperate in any legal process related to this topic.

Being part of the lawsuit may be one way Blakeley thinks he could eventually rebuild his life.

He was uninsured and had minimal money at the time of the fire. Blakeley had stopped working for a while due to an injury, so he’s on a fixed income.

Since the fire happened, he stayed with his son and is now in a shed turned into a home. Blakeley doesn’t know if anything will turn out from this lawsuit, but he said he’s exploring all the avenues he can.

“That’s my biggest worry is try to figure out how I’m going to do this. Get back down there [to my lot], because that’s where I want to be,” he said.

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