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March 2, 2024

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‘It still stings’: Man who discovered the Gray fire reflects on fighting the blaze and its subsequent destruction

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SPOKANE — David Yuhas loaded his sons into his car, met up with a friend and headed out on Aug. 18 to the Jensen Memorial Youth Ranch for some fun.

About a quarter mile from the ranch property on Gray Road, Yuhas saw smoke. When he pulled up to the driveway, a man in the truck said there was a fire and he was calling 911.

He sped up the driveway and banged on Candy Grauberger’s door, waking her .

Yuhas, who works in law enforcement, said his first instincts were to “preserve life and property.”

At that point, it was a grass fire between an ancient stone and wood building, a Quonset hut and the well house.

Yuhas and his friend left their kids in the car and began pushing the blaze away from the buildings. Yuhas got into a Kubota tractor and began creating a fire line.

“At the time, we really thought we could stop this,” he said.

The wind picked up and pushed the grass fire down a gully and into a tree. From there, the fire sped through wheat fields.

“It just shot up the hill faster than you could run,” Yuhas said.

The gust felt like a message, he said.

“That message when it blew up those trees was, you better be careful,” Yuhas said. “There was a point when I probably did disregard my safety when I probably should have thought a little bit better about it with my kids being right there watching.”

His friend called Carl Grub, who owned the property and founded the youth ranch. Grauberger saw sparks coming from an Inland Power and Light security light and called the company to get them to shut the power off.

A Washington State Department of Natural Resources report released this week determined the light started the blaze.

Grub arrived maybe 10 to 15 minutes later, with firefighters not far behind, Yuhas said.

The tire of the tractor caught fire, which arriving fire crews put out, Yuhas said. The firefighters told him to keep doing what he was doing, Yuhas said, but it quickly became clear the grass fire had become a wildfire.

Eventually, Yuhas had to go evacuate his own home. He still wishes he could have done more.

“I probably deal with the guilt of feeling like I didn’t do a good enough job,” he said. “It still stings.”

The pain of that day multiplied when he learned Grub, 86, had crashed his truck driving back into Medical Lake in the smoke and died.

“It was just devastating,” he said.

Recovery update

Recovery is a long process, but progress has been made over the past six months, said Terri Cooper, Medical Lake mayor and board chair of the Spokane Region Long Term Recovery Group.

The group serves as a bridge between nonprofits and governments to aid in recovery efforts, creating processes to get funds and support to those in need.

Recently, a new opportunity opened for asbestos testing reimbursement.

The funds go to the “most need first,” Cooper said.

That means those who had no insurance at all before moving or those who are underinsured, she said. Families work directly with a case worker through Salvation Army who is their liaison to the long-term recovery group.

On social media, posters have frequently raised frustrations that the more than $1 million raised through the Innovia Foundation were not directly dispersed to residents.

If divided between the 500-some households that lost homes, the money would have totaled about $2,000 each.

“That would be the beginning and the end of the donations,” Cooper said. “Money came in, everyone got a couple thousand dollars and good luck. That is not how long-term recovery works.”

Instead, the funds will go to meet specific needs and be dispersed through local nonprofits.

Cooper said the funds from the government, nonprofits and donors are being carefully and transparently managed by local leaders.

“And people should have confidence in that,” Cooper said.

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