In September 2020, devastating wildfires swept through Whitman County, destroying 97 homes in Malden and Pine City. Nearly two-thirds of these families did not have homeowner’s insurance making these losses even more tragic.
Residents of Malden and Pine City not only lost their homes, but also gathering places and crucial utility services. According to Paul Kimmell, Regional Business Manager at Avista Corporation, starting the rebuilding effort was essentially starting from scratch.
“These are incredibly resilient people,” Kimmell said. “In spite of losing everything, their commitment to rebuild community is just amazing.”
Innovia Foundation has been inspired by the resiliency of the Malden and Pine City community members, as well as the generosity of individuals and organizations who have graciously stepped in to help these small rural towns rise from the ashes of tragedy. Innovia has joined faith-based organizations, utility companies, state and local government agencies and other philanthropic organizations to help our neighbors with both short- and long-term recovery efforts.
Inspired by the dedication and pure grit of Malden and Pine City residents, Innovia created ‘A Pine Creek Christmas,’ a successful short-term project that united more than 200 generous donors with families in these communities to make their holiday season a little brighter. Many of these generous and caring donors asked, “What more can we do?” As a direct result of this outpouring of kindness and concern, Innovia and its trusted partners are raising funds to help rebuild as many homes as possible.
Recovery does not end with addressing immediate needs of a community. “Long-term recovery is not a sprint, it is a marathon,” Kimmell said.
While the communities of Malden and Pine City received word that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared the Babb Road Fire a disaster and will provide public assistance for things such as public buildings, FEMA denied funding assistance to individuals and households. The news was just received on Feb. 5, and the residents are still processing what this means. But ultimately it makes rebuilding even a bigger challenge for the community, and private donations more important.
Innovia has established the Pine Creek Fund (which serves both Pine City and Malden) to help support long-term recovery efforts. Donations have already been secured to erect a community center in Malden and for start-up efforts toward reconstruction.
Scott Hokonson, Executive Director of the Pine Creek Community Restoration (PCCR), acknowledges that the road ahead is long and not without challenges along the way. In the meantime residents are currently engaged in boots-on-the-ground hard work, cleaning up fire debris, preparing their lots and helping their neighbors. Now that FEMA has denied the individual assistance, Hokonson is back wondering how they will provide safe, temporary housing which is imperative for displaced families.
“With limited federal funding, the funds raised by Innovia Foundation and by the community are more critical now to help meet some of the communities’ needs and can fill the gaps between any federal or state dollars received,” said Hokonson.
“From the very beginning, the people I have met along the way, and the organizations that have stepped forward have been incredibly helpful,” Hokonson said. “We are all doing the best we can with the resources we have.” Restoring this region will take time, but Malden and Pine City residents can rest assured they will have Innovia and many caring partners and donors sharing in the journey to rebuild their beloved communities.
Erin Sellers is an Innovia Foundation Fellow and a senior at Gonzaga University.