If you are on social media and are in agriculture, I’m sure you have heard about the massive wildfire which began on March 22. The fire started in northern Oklahoma and quickly spread to southern Kansas. The fast moving flames were fueled by warm days with low humidly and nearly 60 mile per hour winds. Once the wrath of Mother Nature begins in the form of a wildfire, there is little anyone can do to control it until the winds calm down.
If you were waiting to hear about his fire on the national news, you more than likely would get a few gray hairs waiting on it. It didn’t make the front page headlines of Wall Street Journal or USA Today. Why do you ask? Out here in the “fly over states,” where there the population of cattle is more than people, it takes a significant event to make headlines. While cattle perished, a few homes were lost, and many people’s lives were turned upside down, there was no loss of human life. Populated communities weren’t forced to evacuate. And million dollar homes didn’t burn to ashes. So it didn’t make a catching national news title right away.
In today’s social media culture, it seems the negative events outnumber positive ones tenfold. You don’t see a lot of good deeds on the Today Show or Good Morning America. But if you look to middle America, and the agriculture community, you will find plenty of reasons to smile, read about the generosity of others and pay it forward.
Several years ago in the aftermath of the Atlas blizzard in western South Dakota, which devastated ranchers in that area, I put together a trailer load of bred heifers to donate to a young couple to lost nearly all their herd. The heifers were donated to help them rebuild their herds. My husband and I and a few other generous cattlemen donated enough heifers to send a trailer load to South Dakota. I hauled them up there and I wasn’t prepared for the emotions I faced when I delivered them. We shed a lot of tears, but the feelings of generosity and “warm fuzzies” were something I will never forget.
On March 23 and 24, the pictures and devastation of the Anderson Creek Wildfire (as it is named), began making news on Facebook and Twitter. I saw the pictures and couldn’t fathom what our fellow ranchers and cattlemen were dealing with. Thousands of head of cattle mixed together because of charred posts and cut fences. The firemen had to cut fences to fight the fire. Why do you ask did they cut the fences? In big ranch country roads go through pastures which measure miles and miles across. The country south and west of Medicine Lodge is rough country. Steep canyons, rough sandy terrain and massive amounts of cedar trees. So since there isn’t many roads, to get to where you need to be in an emergency, cutting fences to save cattle and buildings is the solution.
When the nature of the situation became apparent, a massive plea for help was made. The first thing needed was massive amounts of hay. Many hay piles ranchers save to feed cattle before spring turnout was reduced to a tiny pile of ashes the fire was so scorching hot. Their range land was charred Earth as well. There was nothing to feed thousands and thousands of head of cattle. If you have never had the experience of agriculture helping agriculture, it is truly a unique relationship. Farmers and ranchers are some of the most generous individuals in the world.
Truck load after truck load was donated to ranchers. Many who never knew each other, and some who never met the individual it was delivered to. Each load was worth between $2,000 and $3,000. That’s a lot of dollars of donated feed!
On Thursday I decided I wanted to help the fellow cattlemen in need. I posted on Facebook what I was doing and invited others to help my cause. The response was overwhelming. Tears filled my eyes when 5 minutes after my Facebook post, a friend of mine, Mark Jagels, sent a text saying he would haul a load down. It started a spiral of donations my way. In all, 3 loads of hay were gathered for donations. I shared my PayPal account so those who wanted to
help but couldn’t donate hay, could be involved. I received donations from many people I don’t know. All to be used to help cattlemen in need.
When we made it to our destination southwest of Medicine Lodge, I became overwhelmed with emotions. We pulled into his hay stack yard, where over 300 bales of hay were stored, was charred barren ground. His hay to feed his cattle was completely gone. Very few ashes even remained the fire burned so hot. The fences were reduced to wire laying on the ground. It was a very humbling moment to realize what they were facing. They gratefully unloaded 3 truckloads of hay we donated them.
While the trucks were being unloaded, Dennis (the rancher who we donated hay to) took me on a small tour to witness the devastation he is faced with. His neighbor’s home was reduced to ashes. The bridge less than a mile from the stack yard burnt down, miles of fences were charred to bits. It was rather overwhelming for me driving around in his ranch pickup looking at the blackened Earth.
When the smoke finally cleared an estimated 450,000 acres burned, which is over 650 square miles. Most of the fires were contained on Easter morning when the blackened Earth was turned white with three inches of snow. It was a glorious event for residents of Comanche and Barber counties in Kansas, to wake up to a white Easter, helping extinguish the flames.
Eventually the grass will grow back, and with some help from Mother Nature, sooner if they get some much needed rain. However it will take some time to build back the range reserves they use to feed cattle in that area. With the donated hay they can keep their herds together. Even though the fire itself didn’t make huge national headlines, my hope is the generosity of the American farmer and rancher is shared so much it reaches the communities of urban America. This is what the aftermath of a natural disaster is all about – people helping complete strangers.
If you would like to donate to help the ranchers of the Anderson Creek Fire, you can find disaster relief information through the Kansas Livestock Association.