MALDEN — Like many Malden-area residents, Kristen Ciesielski sees her world through the lens of what the Babb Road Wildfire spared and what it destroyed.
Often fighting tears, Ciesielski praised God on a recent day for keeping her family safe and her home out of the path of the flames near Malden.
Yet the damage left her with new challenges, something at the forefront of her thoughts when she returned to the tiny town.
She and her three kids stopped by for a weekly free lunch provided by Facebook as part of the relief effort. Her children, Bryant, 7, Isabella, 6, and Annabelle, 2, lingered, playing on swings and a seesaw at the town’s park that were untouched by the catastrophe.
At Ciesielski’s home, the fire almost completely destroyed JKC Farms, a business she and her husband own, which produces duck eggs. Only about 10 of the 320 ducks at the farm survived.
The loss of the birds left them grief-stricken, because they were part of the family in the same way people’s pets are, she said.
“It’s a traumatic situation,” she said. “You don’t know how to go through it. You ask them about it now, and my kids will tell you the ducks are in heaven.”
The business was more than a way to earn extra money doing something she enjoyed.
“The long-term goal was for me to get home full time with the kids,” said Ciesielski, a field coach at Subway in eastern Washington.
That dream was starting to seem attainable, but has been delayed indefinitely.
“It was holding its own and making a profit,” Ciesielski said of her duck egg business. “We used that profit to purchase newer equipment.”
Even if they could afford to buy more birds, they wouldn’t. The remaining ducks aren’t comfortable enough to lay eggs yet. And they don’t have anywhere to put them.
The barn where the ducks lived and a converted outbuilding where the eggs were washed are gone. It appears the buildings were severely underinsured, and they will only get a fraction of what it would cost to replace them.
“Without the buildings, we can’t take care of the ducks and keep them happy,” she said. “If they’re not happy, they’re not laying eggs.”
This is the second time her family has gone through a major upheaval. The first was by choice. Almost five years ago, they relocated from Spokane to a lot adjacent to her in-laws in the Malden area.
Her husband’s family has lived in the community for at least three generations. His mom is a Moreland, a name one of Malden’s main streets bears.
“It’s just nice that you know everybody,” Ciesielski said. “They’re more like a family. We like the peace and quiet and knowing you feel safe.”
In the move, they exchanged a 2,500-square-foot house for one that is 1,400 square feet, thinking they would stay there a short time. Tools, fall decorations, furniture, camping equipment and other possessions were still stored in an upper story of the same barn where the ducks lived.
The heaviness she has experienced processing what happened has made everything more difficult.
The day of the fire, her husband, Jason Ciesielski, was in Spokane where he works as a pharmaceutical technician. Their children were with her niece, who is in her 20s, at their home.
“The wind had them terrified,” she said.
She was at her job at the Colfax Subway, where a separate wildfire burned two homes and a shop.
At some point she noticed “fire trucks galore” racing out of town heading north, even though the flames weren’t entirely extinguished in Colfax. She didn’t realize the emergency was in Malden.
Within one hour of her getting home, they were evacuating, with her grabbing a laptop, a hard drive and as many documents as she could.
“We were staring at a white blanket of smoke moving toward us from Malden,” said Ciesielski, who lives just west of town. “You couldn’t see through it. It was solid.”
The panic and fear she felt was unlike anything she’s experienced, worried about the lives of her children, her niece and herself. She drove away from the smoke, heading south toward St. John before circling back to Rosalia.
“I kept telling myself, ‘Be strong,’ ” she said. “We prayed the whole way around.”
She and her husband stayed in touch, battling spotty cell service, and reunited in Rosalia several hours later.
He was the one who went back to their property the same day and broke the news about how much damage the fire had done.
They stayed with her sister for a night in Spokane and have been back at their place near Malden ever since, appreciating the help that has poured in from family members, friends, neighbors, communities and businesses.
Amid all of the disruptions, her homeschooling curriculum was delivered to her door the day after the fire. It was only two weeks ago that she began teaching her kids, about a month later than she planned, an important milestone in restoring the family routine.
She still hasn’t finished inventorying everything that’s missing and, for example, doesn’t know if she has Christmas decorations.
Every day, the new view from her window forces her to acknowledge what has changed.
“I see it, but I think it didn’t really happen,” Ciesielski said.
Williams may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2261.
Information about a year of free housing for Babb Road Wildfire victims is available by calling or texting Scott Hokonson, project manager of the Pine Creek Community Long-Term Recovery Group at (509) 655-3479.