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Small landslide exposes graves at Spokane cemetery

Cemetery officials will take a closer look today at a small landslide that exposed several graves over the holiday weekend at Fairmount Memorial Park in northwest Spokane.

The slide on the northwest side of the cemetery carried one concrete vault containing a casket partly down a slope and exposed the ends of several other vaults, said Denny York, president and CEO of Fairmount Holdings Inc., a division of the nonprofit Fairmount Memorial Association that owns the cemetery.

“We’ve never had anything happen like this on the banks, and we have seven cemeteries. … This was a new one for us,” York said Monday.

The slide was discovered Friday evening, and firefighters and cemetery officials inspected the scene just before sundown. On Saturday morning the loose vault was lifted out of the slide and placed in storage, York said.

The slide left a deep gouge in the cemetery lawn, but the vault slid only about 15 feet downhill, coming to rest, intact, near the root ball of a fallen tree, York said.

“It was like a sled that couldn’t go very far,” he said.

Cemetery maps indicate the vault dates to 1986, but officials will positively identify it and notify the family. “We’re pretty sure, but we absolutely have to know where this vault came from,” York said.

The 126-year-old cemetery sits above the Spokane River and has a lot of slopes around the edges. It also lost a dozen trees in recent windstorms, and it’s possible a weakened tree on the edge of the cemetery triggered the slide, York said.

“We don’t know if a tree was partially going down. There are thousands of trees up there,” he said.

Workers this week will sift through the loose soil and rock to look for anything else dislodged in the slide, York said.

“It didn’t look like we lost anything else but we won’t know until we sift through all of that,” he said. “Then we’ve got to figure out how to shore that up.”

It’s too early to know if the affected gravesites will need to be relocated, he added.

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