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Report blames tree blown into power lines for Malden fire

May 19, 2021 GMT

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A state investigation into the Labor Day fire that burned 80% of the homes in in the Whitman County town of Malden blames a damaged tree that was blown into power lines.

The report by the Department of Natural Resource alleges that a closer inspection of the tree was warranted.

The report does not specifically blame Avista Utilities for not inspecting or removing the tree. But it does note that branches of the Ponderosa pine tree fell into Avista’s powerlines and ignited the brush beneath. The strong winds then pushed the fire into Malden.

About 120 homes, eight commercial buildings and 94 other structures were destroyed in the wildfire.

DNR investigators found that branches on the ponderosa pine had been damaged three to four years prior to what has been named the Babb fire, likely from high winds or heavy snowfall, the report said.

In an email sent to The Spokesman-Review, Avista said the cause of the fire was “extraordinary wind conditions” that affected many electric utilities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The damaged tree stood outside of Avista’s maintenance right-of-way, the company said in a statement.