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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County getting $4.1 million from state for wildfire recovery

Damage from the Gray fire is photographed from the air above Clear Lake on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, near Medical Lake, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Olympia is sending over $4.1 million to help Spokane County recover from August’s catastrophic wildfires.

Chandra Fox, the deputy director of Spokane County’s emergency management department, told the county commission Tuesday that the state is contributing several million dollars to the Gray and Oregon Road fire recovery efforts.

The state Department of Commerce is giving the county $2.9 million, and the governor’s office has committed $2.5 million. While those contributions add up to $5.4 million, the number is misleading because Spokane County has to pay 25% of the amount.

Spokane County will use the money to pay for case managers, who can help homeless families put together recovery plans. It will also go toward temporary housing, asbestos testing and debris removal for the uninsured.

The Gray and Oregon Road fires are, by many metrics, the most devastating wildfires in Spokane County history.

The August fires burned 366 homes to the ground, leaving hundreds homeless and causing millions of dollars worth of damage.

Rebuilding will be a yearslong process and, before it can happen, families will need to clean up the black-and-gray piles of rubble where their homes once stood.

Some have already cleared their properties. For many families with good insurance or access to heavy equipment, cleanup could be fairly straightforward.

Families without insurance or access to backhoes will find themselves in a more difficult situation.

Cleaning up a burned house is rarely as simple as shoveling ashes into the back of a pickup truck.

Many properties are littered with rusting washing machines, burned out cars and heaps of crumpled metal siding. All sorts of cumbersome debris, from brick chimneys to clumps of molten glass, needs to be removed, and not everyone is capable of removing it on their own.

Insurance companies will cover cleanup costs for a majority of property owners who lost their homes in the fires, but some people lack insurance.

The state funding will help cover cleanup costs for uninsured families.

Cleanup isn’t just about hauling away bulky junk, however. State dollars will also pay for asbestos testing, which poses a significant financial burden to the uninsured.

Most homes built before 1980 contain some amount of asbestos, a carcinogen that was once commonly used in a wide range of products, such as insulation and floor tiles. Inhaling asbestos fibers left in the ashes of an incinerated home poses a serious health risk.

Gerry Bozarth, a disaster recovery specialist with the emergency management department, said he discourages people from cleaning up their properties on their own because of the potential risks. People can legally do the work themselves, though, so long as they follow state and federal regulations.

Bozarth said he couldn’t estimate how much it costs to clean up a typical home. But he said cleaning an asbestos-laden property can cost 10 times as much as cleaning a property that’s asbestos-free.