Parade and barbecue honor heroes who helped save DSHS’ Lakeland Village from wildfire
Contact: Lisa Pemberton, DSHS Communications
Lisa.Pemberton@dshs.wa.gov or 360–902–7844
MEDICAL LAKE — Gold and orange leaves swirled to the ground as Lakeland Village residents and staff lined up and waited along the parade route.
The DSHS residential habilitation center’s annual parade, featuring horses and dogs, classic cars and motorcycles, is always a big hit.
But this year’s parade had an extra dose of excitement: Sirens, horns and a dazzling display of flashing lights from a host of police cars, fire trucks and emergency vehicles. Many of those heroes were involved in helping save Lakeland’s residents — 168 at the time — and its 110-acre campus from the Gray Fire just eight weeks earlier.
Some residents held homemade cardboard signs with messages such as “Thank You Workers” and “Thank You Firefighters.” Many clapped and cheered as the emergency vehicles came through.
The guests of honor included Spokane County Fire Districts №3 and №10, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department and Spokane County Emergency Management’s Livestock Emergency Evacuation Team.
A volatile, quick-spreading fire
High winds, dry conditions and surrounding grasslands created what Lakeland Superintendent Tim Gerlitz described as a “firestorm.” The fire originated on Gray Road west of Medical Lake and was first reported at 12:27 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 18.
At one point, later that afternoon, the entire campus was surrounded by flames, recalled Gerlitz.
“It got within 40 to 50 feet of all of our cottages,” Gerlitz said.
During the next 72 hours, the Gray Fire grew to more than 10,000 acres. Level 3 evacuation orders were issued for the city of Medical Lake and surrounding areas. Lakeland Village residents were first evacuated to Pine Lodge, just off DSHS’ Eastern State Hospital campus. They later had to evacuate further into Eastern’s campus as the flames continued to grow.
The fire destroyed 259 homes and claimed one man’s life. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is still investigating the cause of the fire; however, two lawsuits allege it was sparked by a malfunctioning outdoor light installed by Inland Power & Light Company.
“We needed this”
Eight weeks after the catastrophic event, green grass has begun to sprout and cover the charred ground. Nature was quick to reclaim the area, noted Lakeland Communications Consultant Colette Buck.
The parade’s vehicles are staged nearby. The lineup includes a 5,000-gallon water tank that quick-thinking DSHS Consolidated Support Service workers used to spray the road along the backside of campus, and that is believed to have helped save lives and structures, Gerlitz said.
There were many heroes that day, and the days following. They helped keep residents safe during the evacuation. They helped children at the on-campus day care. They didn’t leave when their shifts were over; they worked double shifts and longer.
“Everyone stepped up and went way above and beyond,” said Gerlitz.
After the parade, everyone was treated to a barbecue lunch served up by Lakeland administrators and DSHS’ Developmental Disabilities Administration leaders. There were games and activities, including a face-painting booth that was especially popular, and a row of vendors featuring resident-made ceramics, artwork and potted house plants.
Guests, residents and staff were treated to multiple musical performances by a community ukulele troupe strumming popular songs, and a Consolidated Support Services employee jamming out to resident favorites.
“It was wonderful,” said Lakeland Quality Assurance Manager Michele Sullivan. “I thought, ‘This is something, we really need to celebrate. We made it. We made it!’”
Registered Nurse 3 Deaon Vincent said she hasn’t seen so many people on the campus together since before the pandemic days.
“It was heartwarming to see everyone out and about,” Vincent said. “We needed this.”