‘We’re not going anywhere’: Malden’s on the path to rebuilding with disaster declaration

MALDEN, Wash. — It’s been five months since the Babb Fire tore through Malden and Pine City. The towns have been waiting that same amount of time for an approved FEMA disaster declaration.

On Thursday, it was approved. People in the town view it as a sigh of relief as they reflect on what happened on Labor Day.

“It still wasn’t real until we came in during the day and saw the devastation,” said Rachel Blakely, who lost her home in the fire. “The emotional drain is just because basically you’re homeless and it’s difficult to be homeless.”

Rachel Blakely lives in a fifth wheel with her brother-in-law, a disabled vet who had no insurance on his home. Right next door is her son, his wife and four children.

Needless to say, it’s an emotional and stressful five months.

This emotion has turned into hope thanks to the declaration. However, there’s still a long way to go. According to FEMA, a town must submit project plans to the federal government. If approved, the agency will cover at least 75% of the costs. The money would be given to the state, then disbursed to the town.

“Anytime you show progress it’s going to encourage people to come back and we need people to come back because we want to keep our town,” Blakely said.

The declaration would help rebuild places like the post office or fire station. It’ll also help with roads, power lines and tidying up the town.

“We’re really wanting the scrap, the mess cleaned up,” Blakely explained. “Kids get out and play in it because it’s a fun pile to climb out, but they just don’t understand the concept.”

She’s a member of the Long-Term Recovery Group, and hopes town officials will consider these recommendations. She said the City Council is taking safety as the number one priority.

“There’s some burned out buildings on the main street that just are — you know, if a wall falls down on somebody that’s terrible,” Blakely said.

Heather Van Dyke, who lives with family because she lost her home, says the post office is pretty vital to the town. Right now, everyone has to go to Rosalia for their mail.

One of the biggest questions: What about everyone’s homes? Well, The individual assistance isn’t approved yet.

“I don’t know if some of the people will come back and rebuild,” Van Dyke said. “I don’t know that they’ll financially be able to without some assistance.”

According to Blakely, homes in Malden are difficult to insure because of its age and low income in the area, which is why this help is so important.

“Even if the individual assistance is just low interest loans that can later be forgiven or something like that, it would help people get into their homes,” she explained. “There’s usually not individual assistance with a wildfire so the fact that it is still pending gives us a lot of positive hope that it’s going to be a yes.”

Regardless of what happens, both Blakely and Van Dyke plan to stay in Malden.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Van Dyke said. “It’ll just look a little different.”

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