- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2020

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - A tree that made contact with a power line apparently started a wildfire that burned dozens of homes in eastern Washington, according to a utility company.

The fire burned the vast majority of homes in Malden and Pine City, including over 100 homes in Malden alone. A burned tree found by Spokesman-Review staff apparently was the fire’s starting point during a Sept. 7 windstorm, Avista Utilities spokeswoman Casey Fielder said.

However, the utility has not found evidence that any deficiencies in its equipment, maintenance or vegetation management caused recent fires, the Spokane-based company said in a statement Friday.

Some utilities have attempted to reduce wildfire risk by shutting off power at times. Such decisions can be controversial because many rely on electricity for crucial needs such as medical equipment.

An Avista wildfire resiliency plan finalized this year doesn’t include planned outages, Fielder said.

About 200 residents of Malden fled as winds up to 50 mph (80 kilometers per hour) drove flames toward the town.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Steve Van Dyke, 66, who lost his childhood home and several outbuildings. “It was unstoppable.”

Van Dyke, a longtime firefighter, said he helped battle the fire.

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