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Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Drought is Now Bringing Wildfires

Last week, we were desperately hoping that Hurricane Isaac would come visit us.  The ponds that our cows drink water out of are in very poor shape.  Right now, we feel we have enough feed for the cows, but the water situation is getting more serious with every rain we miss.  When your entire state is in some level of drought, you will take rain any way you can get it.  As I said in my post There is more to a drought than Short Grass and No Crops, wildfires can get out of control very quickly.  A little over a week ago, our neighbors to the north, including my parents, fought a fire to save cattle, hay, grass and homes.

I was at the Ag Chat Conference in Kansas City when The Farmer looked up and saw smoke to the north of us.  He instinctively called my parents to see where the fire was located between the two of our farms.  As soon as they answered the phone, he realized they were an hour away waiting to watch some of their cattle sell at the Livestock Auction.  Both my dad and my husband continued to call neighbors to find where the fire was and found that was south of my parents pastures by at least 3 miles.  The Farmer continued to the scene of the fire to help out.  When he saw the intensity of the fire and the direction it was headed, he immediately hurried to my parent’s farm to get their firefighting equipment ready. 

As my dad got updates from The Farmer and another neighbor whose son was moving cattle out of the path of the flames, he decided to hurry home (let’s just say we are glad the highway patrol wasn’t looking for speeders).

The fire was kept extremely small compared to some that have burned in other states this summer.  At one point it was a 1.2 miles wide.  Approximately, 1370 acres were burned.  My parents lost 180 acres of grass.  The cattle they were waiting to sell were in that pasture the day before.  Numerous cattle were moved from the path of the fire.  Farmers and ranchers cut fences wherever they could and towed the cattle to safety.  One report from a farmer said that the last cows through the gate where missing the switches from their tail-presumably burnt off.  The only known casualty of the fire was a baby calf.  In one pasture, the herd of cattle busted through a new barbed wire fence.

Due to high winds, the fire jumped 5 county roads and a state highway.  Sparks can be carried by the wind and easily ignite dry grass.  In terms of wild fires, this was small and only lasted about 4 hours, but the damage estimates will give you an idea of how dry things were and how losses can add up in a hurry.

The fire involved 12 different landowners.  Six homes stood in the path of the fire.  Five were saved.  The reports I have been getting from those involved that it is amazing that any of the houses were saved and the firemen and volunteers used all their resources to save these houses. 

Every Rural Fire Truck our county has responded to the fire along with some from 2 other counties.  Farmers and other landowner used garden hoses, four wheelers, UTV’s, tractors with sprayers and tractors with discs worked to contain the fire.  More than 64 people responded to help contain the fire using over 100,000 gallons of water.

Many times it is easier to fight fire with fire which is how my father, husband and one of the neighbors decided to stop the fire its farthest reaches.  They dropped matches along the road so the fire had to back into the wind-this is called a back fire.  A back fire seldom has very big flames and most of the time can be contained much easier than a “Head Fire” that has the wind at its back.  Luckily they had enough help from neighbors and the fire trucks and enough time that they got the back fire started in time to stop the head fire and stop the path of destruction. 

Here is the damage estimates that appeared in the local newspapers.
·         28 electic poles lost or in need of replacement.
·         8.25 miles of fences at a loss of almost $124,000
·         315 large round bales of hay at a value of $30,000
·         Unknown value of gas and oilfield equipment was lost as well.
·         One home lost-priceless.

As you can see, even a small fire can have a tremendous economic impact to a community.  Please be careful if you are in one of the areas of drought.  This fire was either started by a hot brake on a passing car or a thrown cigarette.  It is extremely dry and it is supposed to be hot around here again this week.  I hope there won’t be any more of the phone calls that are asking where the smoke is, but if there are, please be considerate of those volunteering their time.  Don’t come out just to see the fire.  Come see it after the fire is out.  I have been told that the amount of people coming out of town to see the fire hampered efforts and really made things dangerous for those trying to protect their livelihood.

Here is what the pastures looked like before the fire.
 Stay safe everyone and have a great week!

-A Kansas Farm Mom