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Wildfires break records and leave scars

Cattle and Beef Industry News
Mar 17, 2017

Devastating fires burned last week in several plains states.
Kansas Sate University

Some records are made to be broken, but when the wildfires broke out earlier this month, no one wanted a Kansas record to be shattered. It happened though when the fire that also included land in Oklahoma consumed a massive 702,000 acres, surpassing the Anderson Creek Fire in March 2016.

That fire, which also straddled Oklahoma and Kansas, burned 400,000 acres in the two states.

As reported in last week’s edition of WLJ, firefighters and livestock producers were busy with devastating fires in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. While ranchers and incident managers in all states were not available, WLJ attempted to reach them and has a recap of some of the losses and relief efforts.

Colorado

In northeast Colorado where more than 30,000 acres burned throughout Logan and Phillips Counties, rancher Kyle McConnell of Haxtun lost 185 cow/calf pairs. While many died in the fire, he, like ranchers in other states, had to put down animals that survived.

In his case this amounted to shooting 70 head.

McConnell explained that his herd, which included registered and commercial Angus, was something he and his wife were building to help provide money for their children’s college fund. Making it even harder, he said some of the cattle belonged to his in-laws and were the result of registered genetics dating back to 1952. “You can’t replace that,” he said. “You can only rebuild, but you can’t replace what you had.”

He described the fire moving at speeds up to 45 miles an hour and said it is amazing that farmers using tractors and discs fighting the fire weren’t lost. “How in the world everyone got out of the way is mind blowing,” he said. “Out of everything that is the greatest joy that we need to keep in mind.

Despite the devastation, Mc- Connell is still able to find a bright spot. “Everyone keeps saying ‘I’m sorry,’ but I tell them I’m still cheerful. We’re only burying cattle, we’re not burying friends.”

He also mused, “Who took it worse? Was it the guy who lost pasture or the guy who lost cattle, or the one who lost his house?” He went on to say, “It’s so big and overwhelming. I took a $340,000 loss; it’s a monetary loss, but they are cows. At the end of the day I lost a lot of work and years in them, but they are cows.”

Numerous relief efforts have been established to help the families impacted. Monetary donations are being accepted by the Colorado Farm Bureau Foundation, www.coloradofarmbureau.com. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Northeast Colorado Cattlemen’s Association were focused on the initial need for hay, feed, and fencing supplies. More information is available at www.coloradocattle.org.

McConnell concluded his comments to WLJ, saying, “Your heart can’t bleed enough to fathom how bad this is.” He added, “The thoughts and prayers of everyone around us is so overwhelmingly appreciated; without question that is our fuel to get through this thing.”

Kansas

In Kansas, as mentioned over 700,000 acres burned through Clark, Comanche and part of Meade Counties. Todd Domer, Vice President of Communications for the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) told WLJ last week that an estimated 3,000-5,000 mature cows were lost in the fire with no estimates on calf losses at this time. Domer noted that calving season in that part of the country was just underway.

Winds at one point reached 70 miles per hour, which Domer noted didn’t allow time to outrun the flames or prepare for what was to come. In some cases he said ranchers were able to move cattle and themselves onto green wheat to escape the fire.

Matt Teagarden, KLA’s CEO said people from around the country are helping with donations including one offer of hay from North Carolina. Monetary donations are being accepted by the Kansas Livestock Foundation at www.kla.org.

KLA President David Clawson, who ranches in the fire zone, didn’t want to provide numbers, but said, “Compared to everyone else here, I got out easy.” He noted he lost some cattle but other ranchers in the area lost 50 to 90 percent of their herds.

Commenting on the emotional toll of the situation, Clawson said, “A lot of us men have cried—I guarantee you. You’re not supposed to have to shoot your own animals like that.” He continued, “How they lived through the fire is amazing, but they were so stressed we knew it was the right thing to do—but it’s tough to do.” Oklahoma According to the Oklahoma Forestry Service, approximately 318,000 acres were consumed in Oklahoma from the recent wildfires.

“The total cattle loss is estimated around 3,000 head but we expect that number to go up in coming days,” said Charlie Swanson, President of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) and rancher from Roosevelt, OK. “It saddens me to know that my fellow ranchers have experienced such devastating loss from the recent wildfires. Families have lost homes, livestock, equipment and hay.”

A fire relief fund has been set up through the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation, 501(c)3. To donate visit www.okcattlemen.org or send a check with Fire Relief in the memo to Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation, P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148.

Swanson said OCA will work with extension offices in the affected counties to identify ranchers in need and distribute the funds.

“While recovering from this devastating natural disaster will take time, folks across the nation quickly rallied to support their fellow cattleman,” Swanson said. “The outpouring of hay, fencing supplies, household goods, support and donations is overwhelming. I’m proud to be part of this industry that helps each other out when times are tough.”

Texas

Firefighters in Texas were also busy with at least 436,000 acres burned in the Texas Panhandle, according to the Texas Forest Service. As reported last week four people died in the fire as they attempted to save cattle.

“Fires like those in the Texas Panhandle have an enormous impact on cattle raisers,” said Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association President Richard Thorpe. “As fires sweep through an area, they destroy pastures, burn fences, and injure and kill cattle in their path; worse, they put human lives in danger as ranchers work to move their cattle out of harm’s way.

It gives us great pride to see our ranching community pull together in times of need, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to all those who have donated their hay, supplies, time and money to assist producers devastated by these wildfires. Our prayers go out to all those impacted by the fires and all those helping to rebuild.”

As noted a number of relief efforts have been established. Please contact the cattlemen’s associations in the respective states for additional information.

Some government programs may be available to help with losses including USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program. Farmers and ranchers should contact their local Farm Service Agency office for assistance with filing claims. — Rae Price, WLJ Editor

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