During a visit to Whitman County on Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee offered cash assistance to residents of the Malden area that was ravaged by a fast-moving wildfire on Monday.
“This morning we freed up several hundred thousand dollars from my emergency fund for cash assistance,” Inslee said. “We want to get some cash to these families so they can eat and have a little bit of clothing, and a little bit of whatever they need to survive in the upcoming weeks.”
Many people from Malden, which counted about 200 residents, and the neighboring community of Pine City were displaced after rushing to evacuate Monday afternoon. Malden Mayor Chris Ferrell said the town had about 130 homes before the fire swept over the area.
“Twenty-seven are still standing,” she said Thursday.
Malden also lost its post office, town hall and fire station.
“When your house burns down, it’s not just an economic loss,” Inslee said. “It is a theft of your family’s history – the heirlooms, your pictures, your trophies, the things you love in your home. It’s a breach of your security. It’s ripping out that rug that we all stand on, of having a home and feeling secure enough.”
Inslee said an official from the state Department of Social and Health Services was in Malden to assist residents with various needs, and he pledged to be “as aggressive as possible” in pursuing federal emergency grants and loans to help residents and the town government rebuild.
The governor, who has long advocated a tax on carbon emissions, also repeated his call for policies that would slow and mitigate the effects of human-caused climate change.
“We’re living in a new Washington,” Inslee said. “We’re living in a Washington where explosive fire seasons are becoming unfortunately routine, not the exception.”
Inslee said nearly 600,000 acres in Washington had burned since numerous fires started on Monday, including the one in Malden. That, he said, is more land lost to fires than the state has seen in any previous entire year except 2015, when more than 1 million acres burned.
“The enormity of these fires, the geographical scope, the intensity and the destruction are unequaled in Washington state history,” he said. “We know why this is happening. We know why the grass becomes drier, and the heat goes up, and even the wind goes up. And that’s because our climate is changing.”
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers also visited Malden on Thursday and said she would push the Trump administration to provide emergency assistance to Malden and other parts of Washington devastated by this week’s fires.
“I’ve been around a lot of forest fires, but to see what happened in the town of Malden is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” the Republican congresswoman said. “I plan to put together pictures from today and impress upon the Trump administration the importance of a quick turnaround.”
Inslee’s Republican challenger in the gubernatorial race, Republic police Chief Loren Culp, questioned the threat and the science of climate change in a Facebook video on Thursday, saying the governor should focus instead on forest management and “the garbage, the feces, the dirty needles, the tent cities that are polluting our streams and our lakes right in our own backyard, within walking distance of the Capitol.”
“The climate does change. I’m not denying that,” Culp said, though he questioned whether it’s warming or cooling. “Why don’t we work on what’s in our backyard first?”
Inslee said Culp should follow the scientific consensus that Earth’s climate is warming and creating more dangerous fire seasons.
“Open your eyes. Follow the science,” Inslee said. “Because the wages of not following the science are loss – people losing their lives and their homes. And we’re better than this.”
Inslee said he was encouraged to see investments in renewable energy while traveling to the Palouse on Thursday, arguing that fighting climate change makes economic sense.
“I saw wind turbines. I saw jobs,” Inslee said. “There are jobs here because we’re fighting climate change. There’s jobs here building and maintaining wind turbines instead of having coal-fired plants. We’re putting people to work doing this.”
Inslee visited Malden one day after Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, who said Monday’s blaze highlights the need for more resources for preventing and responding to wildfires.
Franz, who leads the state Department of Natural Resources, spent the last legislative session lobbying for a bill that would add a $5 surcharge to home and auto insurance policies, which would generate an estimated $62.5 million a year for forest maintenance and firefighting resources.
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