Out of the Fire, Heroes Emerge

grassfireIt’s a good news/bad news/better news scenario in Kansas and Oklahoma, where wildfires have ravaged hundreds of thousands of acres of range land and continue to burn. The good news—the estimate of land consumed by the wildfires is dropping, and the huge Anderson Creek fire in Kansas has finally been brought under control.

The bad news—livestock loss figures are beginning to climb as ranchers take stock of the damage

The better news? No one was seriously injured, and the rural and ag communities did what they always do—responded to a difficult situation with concern, hard work and support for their friends, neighbors and, in some cases, people they’ve never met.

Historic devastation

The Anderson Creek fire, which originated in Oklahoma, is now the largest wildfire in Kansas history, having burned at least 620 square miles of rangeland in the two. Barber County, Kansas, was hit hardest, with roughly 45% of the county burned. Smoke from the fires was visible in St. Louis and drifted as far as Kentucky.

Some ranchers lost 100% of their pasture, but many were able to move cattle to safety before the fire arrived. Unfortunately, not all were that fortunate, and reports of loss mounted as ranchers were able to return to their operations and take stock of the damage. Twelve homes and countless miles of fence were also destroyed in both states.

In addition to the immediate loss of livestock, feed and property, there will likely be ongoing effects for some livestock. “There will definitely be long-term repercussions for some of these animals, with smoke inhalation being number one,” says Scarlett Hagins, Kansas Livestock Association communications program manager. “Ranchers and their veterinarians will be hard at work evaluating how to manage each and every case.”

Communal response

As is typical of rural communities, the worst conditions bring out the best in human nature. In this case, there were many heroes, starting with the volunteer firefighters from Kansas and Oklahoma communities who were fighting on the front lines for days. Driven by high winds and extremely dry conditions, flames were 30 feet high in some areas. The rough, hilly terrain of the Gypsum Hills where the fires are centered added to the challenge.

Then there was the immediate outpouring of support from farmers and ranchers across Kansas and Oklahoma and, in fact, across the country. With many impacted ranchers losing both their pastures and their stored hay, the immediate need was feed. When the call for help went out, it was answered immediately.

According to Matt Teagarden, chief executive office of the Kansas Livestock Association, they sent a notice on a Thursday asking for hay. By Friday, they had received hundreds of bales and offers of more from farmers and ranchers as far away as southwest Texas, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Chris Boyd, the hay effort coordinator in Barber County, received 450 calls from producers wanting to donate hay in one day.

What can you do?

That sort of generosity means that, for the moment, no more hay is needed. But there are many other needs—beginning with an estimated 100 miles of lost fencing that will need to be replaced

There are many ways you can help. Here are a few of them:

  • A top priority is getting charitable donations to victims of the Anderson Creek Fire so they may purchase fencing supplies and take care of impacted livestock. The Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) is encouraging people to make monetary donations to the Kansas Livestock Foundation, the charitable arm of KLA. Tax deductible checks can be made out to the Kansas Livestock Foundation. Please write “disaster relief” in the memo line. Send donations to 6031 S.W. 37th, Topeka, Kansas 66614.
  • In Oklahoma, a similar relief fund has been established by the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation (OCF) to help Woods Co. cattle producers impacted by the Anderson Creek Fire. Donations are being accepted via mail and can be sent to the OCF via P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148. Checks can be made payable to the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation and write “fire relief” in the memo line. For those who wish to donate online, visit okcattlemen.org.
  • Questions about the need for more hay or trucking donations should be directed to Sandra Levering, Coldwater, at 620-518-2247, or Chris Boyd, Medicine Lodge, at 620-243-2584. The Farmers Cooperative in Coldwater and Farmers Cooperative Equity Co. in Medicine Lodge have been identified as locations to receive hay donations.

Your help is appreciated. There’s always room for a few more heroes.