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Spokane cemeteries still cleaning up from windstorm

A month after a windstorm blew through Spokane, the devastation it left behind in some local cemeteries remains on view.

Root balls are mixed in with graves. Ground struck by century-old trees is uneven and muddy. Some headstones lie on their sides.

About 150 trees fell in the Nov. 17 storm in cemeteries owned by the Fairmount Memorial Association, said David Ittner, the association’s senior vice president of operations. Another 30 were damaged and removed after the storm.

Mostly uprooted, the trees pulled up mounds of dirt, threw irrigation pipes out of the ground, crashed into headstones, blocked roads and tore up grass.

Fairmount operates seven cemeteries in Spokane County. The worst damage was at Greenwood Memorial Park and Riverside Memorial Terrace off Government Way in west Spokane and Fairmount Memorial Park next to Joe Albi Stadium.

After two summer storms caused extensive damage in 2014, cemetery officials decided to close early on the day of the windstorm and evacuate the grounds.

Ittner surveyed the damage the next morning.

“Quite frankly it looked like the pictures you see on the TV of a hurricane coming through. It was a lot worse than the last storms,” he said. “The overall appearance was just devastation everywhere.”

More than 100 gravestones were damaged, knocked over or displaced, he said. He declined to say if any remains were disturbed, but said the association has worked to reach out to families of those whose graves or headstones were affected. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Licensing, which regulates the cemeteries, said cemeteries are not required to report damage to gravesites to the state or to families.

Ittner said many of the toppled markers were not significantly damaged and just need to be reset.

On one spot at Greenwood recently, a large pine still was lying over a headstone, which remained upright and intact. The pine, however, split where it hit the stone.

“We’re going to do as much as we can to repair or replace them,” Ittner said.

Despite the damage, Ittner said, the cemeteries had to reschedule just one burial service, on Nov. 18. But the grounds to the three cemeteries have been closed to the public for much of the time since the storm as crews worked to clear the trees.

The Fairmount cemeteries lost about 50 trees during the summer storms in 2014. Cleanup and repair cost about $100,000. Ittner said bills this time could reach $400,000. He said insurance should cover much of the damage.

Fairmount’s annual operating budget is about $6.5 million.

Other cemeteries also were hit in the windstorm.

At Mount Nebo Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery that borders Greenwood and is owned by Temple Beth Shalom, about five markers were toppled by trees.

Mick Soss, co-chairman of the Temple’s cemetery committee, said storm costs could reach $5,000. He said the toppled markers should be able to be restored.

One tree fell at the cemetery during the summer 2014 storms.

“But we were lucky because it fell between the monuments,” he said.

Damage at Holy Cross Cemetery in north Spokane wasn’t as bad as what occurred in the two 2014 events.

About 15 tall pines, mostly on the south fence line, fell on Nov. 17. That’s down from 22 that fell during the 2014 storms, said John Fencik, director of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services of Spokane, which operates the cemetery.

He said no graves were disturbed, though some flat markers had to be repositioned.

Some historic sections of the Fairmount cemeteries are noticeably sunnier, but most still have many large trees. Ittner said the association will keep a careful eye on the health of the trees still standing, but healthy trees will remain.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot that can be done,” he said. “The trees are essentially what make our cemeteries so beautiful.”


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