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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Welcome to the newest town in the state of Washington’: Malden gets new post office, town hall, fire building after devastating wildfires

In 2020, the towns of Malden and Pine City were devastated by a wildfire.

And for the last four years, recovery efforts have been a marathon, with Mayor Dan Harwood helping to lead the way.

On Thursday, Harwood and the community got their gold.

Harwood, along with people from FEMA, the Department of Emergency Management, town council and volunteer fire department, cut a gold ribbon to open the town’s combination post office, fire station and town hall.

“Welcome to the newest town in the state of Washington,” Harwood said to the crowd.

With a smile on his face, Harwood held his piece of ribbon over his head in triumph.

On Sept. 7, 2020, residents of Malden had less than 30 minutes to evacuate before the fire destroyed more than 120 homes in the area.

The majority of residents were uninsured.

In the three-plus years since, the town has slowly started to recover. Eight families received homes built by Mennonite and Amish communities. Others used insurance to rebuild, bought mobile homes or still live in RVs. Many residents left the area, deciding to find a new community.

“Our citizens are resilient,” Harwood said.

More than 60 people sat in the bay, which will soon hold a fire truck, to celebrate the building’s completion.

After some speeches, residents and people invested in the recovery milled around eating cake and drinking coffee.

The town’s oldest resident, Jim Jacobs, 93, received the first key to a mailbox in town.

He smiled and chuckled as he slid the shiny brass key onto his clown key chain. Jacobs was one of the first town residents to have a home built for him by the Western Anabaptist Mission Service.

“It’s beyond belief,” Jacobs said of the new building.

Each day of recovery has been a battle, Harwood said, so much so he has counted the 1,528 days it took to open the building.

Not long after the fire, town clerk Micki Harnois sent out a survey to see what people wanted in town as part of the recovery efforts.

The top three wants were internet, trees and a post office.

All three of those returned to Malden through the help of state and federal support, along with the Pine Creek Long Term Recovery Group, a nonprofit designed to help the area recover.

Executive Director of the long term recovery group Chandelle Frick said she feels “blessed” to have the building completed.

“It’s just so heartwarming,” Frick said.

Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said the building is “a really big step” and a testament to the strength of those in the community.

“You’re as strong as the people in your community,” Myers said.

Malden isn’t stopping yet, Harwood said. With insurance money, the town plans to build a community center to house a library, a foodbank, bathrooms and a community room.

Construction is set to start next week with a goal of next fall for completion.