The Labor Day fire that destroyed most of this community started in a stand of pine at the edge of a farm field. A treetop, buffeted by powerful late summer winds, snapped and fell onto power lines, which slapped together and spewed a shower of sparks.
Early on, this blaze appeared rather ordinary, creeping through a carpet of needles and grass. Then a big gust pushed the flames up the flank of a nearby ridge, and everything changed as the fire jumped from tree to tree, according to two witnesses who lived nearby.
In less than an hour, the fire galloped some 4 miles to the southwest through pine and fields of grain to reach Malden. The speed and ferocity of the advance doomed any effort to protect homes. Instead first responders pounded on doors – and blared through loudspeakers – to urge people to evacuate.
“I’m just glad that everybody made it. I still live in an alternate universe where … people didn’t. I’ve just started to be able to sleep through the night,” said Scott Hokonson, a volunteer firefighter and town councilman who lost his home to the fire.