‘I don’t know what’s next’: Lincoln County cattle rancher devastated by Whitney Fire

DAVENPORT, Wash. — Homes lost and decades of hard work are now all gone. That’s what the Whitney Fire took from the cattle ranchers in Lincoln County.

Those living near Davenport are still reeling from the loss, wondering what they’ll do now.

The Whitney Fire started on Labor Day, burning almost 200 square miles. About 95 percent of the fire is contained, meaning most of the perimeter for the fire has been put down to keep it from spreading.

Almost 100 structures are gone; half of them are homes. Although cattle rancher Chase Hubbard’s home was spared, it was his ranch that he lost.

“People, they say ‘Well, at least it didn’t get your house,’ and I said this once already, but you know, they’re right. But, ultimately it would’ve been better if it’d just take the house and left the ranch alone because now we don’t have a way to make a living,” he told 4 News Now.

Hubbard watched generations of work burn down in just a matter of minutes.

He’s also a volunteer firefighter for District 7. He was out there trying to help put out the flames, but he watched it keep growing.

“You couldn’t do anything. The sparks were going so far, it landed on top of the stacks and that was it. It took the barn, and it was through here so fast and it was just unbelievable,” he said.

About $200,000 worth of hay went up into flames. Now, he doesn’t know how he’s going to feed his cattle this winter. Hubbard estimates he lost about $1 million since the hay, barn, and fences burned down.

Hubbard also lost some of his cattle.

“The wild thing about is it wasn’t even the flames that got them. It was the smoke, so you can only imagine what that was like,” he said.

He’s only one of many others who lost their life’s work.

Matt Schneider, the president of the Lincoln County Cattleman’s Association, said at least 30 other ranches were damaged in the fire.

“This is still pretty fresh. They’re still trying to figure out what they need, whether it’d be hay or whether it’d be protein tubs or whether it’d be a a vet. It’s kind of all hands on deck and trying to figure out where to start,” he said.

Schneider says it’s going to take a long time to build fences back up and restore what was lost.

“This is going to take years, if we can survive. This is going to take a lot of time to rebuild,” Hubbard said.

Years of being on this land, and being a volunteer firefighter, Hubbard says all the damage could’ve been avoided if public lands were managed better.

He wants officials to talk to them and hear from them.

“As ranchers, we care more about this land than probably anybody else because it’s what feeds our families. It’s how we survive. We live off the land. We take care of it, it takes care of us,” he said. “So, if I can get that to people and put it in their heads that we’re out here doing a great job, and we want to do better and we’re learning more and more… They need to start talking to us about what needs to happen.”

Now, Hubbard isn’t sure what the future will hold for him and his family.

“I’m afraid. I am. As long I don’t think about it, I’ll do alright,” he said. “But, I don’t know what’s next. I’m young, I can start over, and go get a different job. I’d be better off doing that, it’s got benefits, better pay, but I’d hate it. I love this lifestyle,” he said.

The Lincoln County Community is rallying to help each other out. However, since most of their hay is already gone, they’re in need of donations from others.

“We spend all summer making the hay, and these guys have calculated out how much they need to get through, and so does everybody else. So, hay is going to be one of the really hard, you can’t replace it,” Schneider said.

He said they have some people bringing in hay from Idaho and Oregon, but they’re still in need of more to feed thousands of cattle.

To find out how to help cattle ranchers affected by the Whitney Fire, click here.