Heavy smoke is in the air, and about 20 people are shown leaving a brick building. Some people are pushing wheelchairs.
Staff members at DSHS’ Lakeland Village Residential Habilitation Center in Medical Lake move residents to safety as a wildfire in the area threatened lives and structures on Friday, Aug. 18.

DSHS staff protect clients and facilities during wildfire near Spokane

Contact: Lisa Pemberton, DSHS Communications


Gov. Jay Inslee and DSHS Secretary Jilma Meneses toured Lakeland Village Residential Habilitation Center on Sunday, less than 48 hours after a fastmoving wildfire hit the area, forcing a citywide evacuation and shelter in place orders for both DSHS campuses in Medical Lake.

One Lakeland Village staff member suffered an injury during the incident. Dozens of Lakeland Village residents were temporarily moved to the nearby Eastern State Hospital for safety reasons on Friday, but were in their homes later that night. There were no resident or patient injuries.

About 25 people are standing on the steps in front of a brick building at Lakeland Village. They include Lakeland Village staff, DSHS staff, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee and DSHS Secretary Jilma Meneses. Most of the people are smiling; some people have a serious look on their face.
Gov. Jay Inslee (front row, center) and DSHS Secretary Jilma Meneses (second row, fourth from left) pose for a photo with DSHS staff at the Lakeland Village campus on Sunday.

Meneses said she was impressed at how the wildfire surrounded Lakeland’s campus, but didn’t damage any buildings.

“It’s a miracle,” she said. “I’m doubly impressed by the staff and their dedication.”

Meneses credited quick-thinking employees who poured water on the ground and turned on the sprinklers. She said she was also impressed by the stories she heard of employees who helped push people in wheelchairs across a field, when winds kicked up and they had to be relocated.

Three men are standing in a row. Bill Teske is on the left, wearing a turquoise T-shirt and gray pants. Gov. Jay Inslee who is wearing a dark blue and white checkered shirt, gray pants and a black pair of glasses. JoeDavid Veliz is on the right, wearing a gray T-shirt and a black baseball cap with an American flag on it.
From left: Lakeland Village IT Systems Administrator Bill Teske, Gov. Jay Inslee and RHC Facility Services Administrator JoeDavid Veliz.

On Sunday, Inslee named Lakeland Village’s JoeDavid Veliz as “Washingtonian of the Day.” He knew his home was lost pretty early on as the fire quickly spread in the area. Yet, he continued to stay at Lakeland Village and help as part of its Incident Command team. He is the Residential Habilitation Administration Facility Services Administrator, and a U.S. military veteran. He has worked at Lakeland Village since June 2013.

Inslee also noted the heroic efforts of Allen Nowak, Lakeland’s Safety Officer 3. Even after he was injured, Nowak continued to assist residents on the scene.

Nowak is a U.S. Navy veteran who spent more than more than 20 years as a firefighter, hazardous materials specialist, and incident commander. He has worked at Lakeland Village since October 2022.

A gray plume of smoke and ash fills the air over a large brick building at Eastern State Hospital. There is a field that has been recently mowed in front of the building.
A physician took this photo of smoke and ash above Eastern State Hospital during the wildfire in the area on Friday, Aug. 18.

As of Monday, both campuses were still under shelter in place orders, as crews worked to restore internet and other essential services that were knocked out on Friday. The fire was first reported midday Friday. By late afternoon, DSHS activated its Emergency Coordination Center. We continue to follow our emergency procedures to streamline agency response. Staff coordinated with local incident command, led by the Spokane Fire Department. The agency also received assistance from many local, state and federal partners, including Fairchild Air Force Base and the Air National Guard, Department of Corrections, Department of Health, Washington State Patrol, Washington Emergency Management Division and others.

“My heart goes out to all of the staff who lost their homes,” Meneses said.

Many Lakeland Village, Eastern State Hospital and regional DSHS staff still don’t know the fate of their homes in the area.

Lakeland Village superintendent Tim Gerlitz described it as surviving a “firestorm.”

“Nobody understands how we escaped this,” he said on Saturday. “Still lots of fires and hotspots over here and nobody is out of the woods yet, but we have a most exceptional team, taking care of business here.”