Almost every structure in the small farming town of Malden in eastern Washington state was destroyed by a fast-moving fire Monday as high winds created what officials described as a firestorm.
According to the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office, 80% of the town’s structures were destroyed. The town of about 200 is 35 miles south of Spokane in an agricultural region known as the Palouse.
“The scale of this disaster really can’t be expressed in words,” said Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers in a statement. “The fire will be extinguished but a community has been changed for a lifetime. I just hope we don’t find the fire took more than homes and buildings. I pray everyone got out in time.”
As of early Tuesday there were no reports of injuries.
Officials said the fire was fueled by high winds up to 45 mph, standing timber and dry fields. Deputies went door-to-door and used PA systems on their patrol vehicles to tell residents to evacuate immediately. Within hours most of the small town had burned to the ground.
Myers said he believed all residents in the area had safely evacuated but couldn’t be sure, according to The Spokesman-Review.
“The fire was too hot and too quick to even get a count,” Myers said.
Whitman County Emergency Management, Sheriff’s Office and Fire Incident Command will inventory buildings and attempt to contact and account for all residents Tuesday.