A resident of a Washington state community who managed to save his home from a Labor Day wildfire told NBC News that it felt like “a war zone.”
Larry Frick, 53, is one of few remaining homeowners in Malden, Washington, a community of just 200 people where 80% of the small town was destroyed by wildfires on Monday, according to the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office.
“Everything around me is gone,” Frick told NBC News in a video interview on Wednesday. “All my neighbors, everything, there’s no standing structure.”
Frick and his wife Chandelle learned that wildfires were approaching their home in Malden on Monday while they were out of town visiting family for the holiday weekend. They soon found out that their town had been evacuated, but unable to reach Frick’s elderly mother-in-law who lives in the family home, they pushed through the smoke to get home and check on her.
“I’ve never been in a war zone, but I would say that maybe this is what it was like,” Frick said of the scene he found upon arrival. “There were explosions going off non-stop, and some really big ones where I could feel it shake the ground.”
After discovering that his mother-in-law was safe, Frick and his wife decided to try and save their home, where only the deck had begun to burn. The pair said they managed to keep the flames gathering on their property at bay with just two hoses and a sprinkler system before they were joined by volunteer firefighters from a neighboring community.
Other members of the community were not so lucky. Frick said he recalls watching his neighbor’s home catch alight and burn to the ground in under 20 minutes.
“The smoke was so thick and embers were hitting me as I was in my yard, running around and branches were falling. I don’t know if I was scared. I just I couldn’t believe it. I was in awe… and shock,” he said.
Today, the only building that Frick can see from his family home is the town church, which also survived the blaze. The fire had been contained as of Wednesday, with crews still on the ground responding to flare-ups, the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office wrote in an update.
Wildfires on the west coast have left at least six dead and destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of land and property across California and the Pacific Northwest. Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz confirmed on Wednesday that a child had been killed in the 163,0000-acre Cold Springs fire between Spokane and Seattle, the state’s first fatality.
In Malden, state resources and charities are on the ground to support residents, but Frick fears that many of his neighbors were not insured. He said he and his family plan to stay and help rebuild the town, but he knows that’s a long way off.
“I don’t know how many people will decide to come back after losing everything they’ve ever had,” he said.