Farmers see livelihood burned to ashes by Watermelon Hill fire

Gallery: Watermelon Hill fire

Firefighters have reached 40-percent containment on the Watermelon Hill fire south of Cheney, which, thanks go better GPS mapping, is being assessed at 11,000 acres in size and all evacuations have been downgraded to Level One.

The evacuation notice being downgraded means residents can return to their homes.

While firefighters are getting a handle on the fire residents in the area are finding their work is just beginning.

Tommi Swannick is just 15 but she can feel the fire’s impact.

“I’m probably going to have to help rebuild fence and try to sort cows and stuff,” Swannick said.

Swannick’s family lost a barn, a stack of hay and all their winter pastures. She says her father even had to put down two cows that caught fire.

“We kind of depend on the cows and our hay and he puts up all this hay. It’s pretty much what he does all summer,” Swannick said.

Most of the residents in the area report similar loses: Wheat crops gone. Pastures burnt. Fences destroyed.

“So now we have to patch the fences up enough to keep cows home. Eventually we’re going to have to come through and build a lot of them new,” John Goodwin said.

Goodwin lost 130 acres of winter wheat and about 400 bales of hay.

“It’s going to make us short on hay. Hay this year was already short. So we’re going to have to hunt for some hay now,” he said.

Most have insurance on their property which alleviates the financial burden, but if you ask what’s made the situation easier, it’s the community’s support.

“All the neighbors have been great, they’ve been coming over and trying to find cows. We’re doing it together,” Swannick said.