From the Spokesman-Review:

Gonzaga wrangled talent, ranch-tough work ethic with Chandler Smith, Jill Townsend
Wed., Oct. 28, 2020
By Jim Allen
(509) 459-5437

When the land called her home, Chandler Smith didn’t think twice.

Last weekend, the former Gonzaga basketball star left her job in Spokane, returned to the scorched earth of her family’s ranch north of Brewster, Washington, and went to work.

It promises to be hard and dirty, with no end in sight.

“But family comes first,” Smith said.

They certainly need her.

Like some gigantic blowtorch, the fires that swept through Okanogan County on Labor Day weekend left the Smith ranch blackened and scarred. It will be two or three years before cattle can graze there again.

The hay is gone, too, incinerated by what Smith called a “volcano” of fire.

It roared in from the north, from the ranch owned by the family of Jill Townsend, her lifelong friend and former GU teammate.

Friends since childhood, they rode for miles that Labor Day, rescuing the cattle that survived and lamenting those that didn’t.

“We’re still in complete shock,” Smith said. “We’re all taking it day by day.”

Since then, Chandler’s father Dale, brother Davey and the hired hands have covered 40,000 acres, only recently chasing down the last of the scattered cattle and getting an accurate count of what remains.

Now they need to chase down some food for the animals; and after that, a lot of pastureland.

“That’s the thing right now, there’s nothing to feed them through the winter,” Smith said. “And then, next spring and summer, what are we going to do?”

Meanwhile, the Townsend family is facing the same tough questions.

“We’ve been hit pretty hard,” Townsend said.

The land is calling out to her as well. Townsend would be there but for the fact that it’s her senior year at Gonzaga, with a degree to earn and a team to lead on the basketball court.

That, too, is a big responsibility.

“It’s hard, but I keep in contact every day, asking what’s going on,” Townsend said.
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