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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Fire the National Media Won't Tell You About

There has been a fire raging in Kansas and Oklahoma for days and you probably haven't seen anything about it on the news.  It is the largest wildfire to ever burn in Kansas.

The last 6 days have been long and tiring for the people and livestock living in Woods County, OK, Barber and Comanche Counties in Kansas.  A wildfire started along Highway 64 in Oklahoma.  Maybe it was from a cigarette tossed out the window or a brake that threw sparks on a big rig.  It really doesn't matter how it started at this point.  What happened in those 3 counties?  367,620 acres burned pushed by winds that reached 57 miles per hour!  The humidity was extremely low and the soil moisture was very dry.  That is the equivalent of 367,000+ football fields burned black.

Here is what we do know about the Anderson Creek Fire:

  1.  Fences were damaged.  Posts were burned to the ground.
  2. Cows were killed although not as many as originally thought.  The cows took refuge in and around ponds and saved their own lives.
  3. Livestock are suffering from smoke inhalation and burns.
  4. Homes were lost.  My husband has friends who had the fire go by one side of the house and they thought they were saved only to have the wind switch directions and come back at the house and burn it to the ground.
  5. Volunteer fire fighters are exhausted and are back at work at their regular jobs.  Yes, I said regular jobs.  Fire Departments in rural America are largely staffed by volunteers who leave their paying jobs to protect us often getting less than $50 per day in payment.
  6. Dreams for an easy Spring season are long gone. Days are going to be filled with rebuilding fences and helping neighbors.
Greg Akagi from WIBW shared this thought from a rancher in the area.

The people who live in the counties are busy!  

At this point very few have had time to think about what has happened and could probably learn quite a bit from the ranchers that lived through Winter Storm Atlas.
  • Right now, they are searching for cattle.  They are most likely alive, but are mixed with other ranches cattle thanks to fences that were damaged, gates that were opened to let fire fighters in and the cows out, and fences that were cut to let fire trucks in to attempt to stop the fires.
  • They are fixing fences to keep their cattle somewhere safe.  No, they aren't waiting for the government to give them help to rebuild.  They don't have time to wait on the speed of the government.
  • They are helping neighbors.  
  • They are certainly keeping a watchful eye to the sky looking for a small whisp of smoke that could mean huge trouble with a gust of wind.

 There is never a great time for a wildfire, 

But a March/April fire is just when the grass is starting to grow and when most farmers plan to burn anyway.  This fire was not ideal conditions.  It was burning hotter than ranchers would like to see, but the native grasses are resilient.  They survived wildfires long before man came along to extinguish them.  Ranchers can use fire as a means to control many trees and bushes that try to over take grassland.  We also know, just as the Native Americans did, that fire gives us better more nutritious grass that is good for both cattle, buffalo and wildlife alike.
Cedar Trees on our farm during a controlled burn.

As this video states, it burned A LOT of cedar trees.  These trees are very invasive and choke out grass under them.   Eastern Red Cedar Trees also send sparks flying into the air when they burn which was probably a big part of how the fire spread with the help of the fire.  Cedar trees also use lots of water.  I saw a report saying that a rancher saw water running from a spring in the burned area that had not been running water before.  With the trees gone, there will be more water for livestock and wildlife and will improve the habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chicken and Bobwhite Quail populations that have been dwindling in recent years. 

Want to see more sights of the fire?  KWCH TV has some great coverage!  I especially liked this video showing the sights and sounds of the fire.

We have been through a few wildfires in dry windy conditions, but nothing the size of this one.  Neighbors have always rushed to help us fight the fire and see if we needed anything afterward.  Watching cows be confused and not know where to take them or how to get them to understand you are trying to help is heart wrenching. Having to decide to save yourself and your crew you are responsible for and leaving animals to fend for themselves is awful.

Hay was needed to feed cows.  


Unlike fires we have seen before, entire ranches were burned including their hay stacks.  One day after a call was sent out that hay was needed, the Kansas Livestock Association said their was more hay than the local Coop yards could hold and they would let us know when/if more was needed.  I say "if", because the fire area got snow Easter morning providing valuable moisture to the grass to help it grow quickly.

What can you do?  

Both Kansas and Oklahoma have set up disaster relief funds to help the ranchers rebuild.
Pray for continued rain in the area.  There are showing signs of drought once again.

Kansas Farm Bureau got this from a rancher in a 1 minute conversation on Friday.

Share this with your friends.  Let them see how hard it is to grow food for their table.
Do you a story of someone in the area?  Please share it!

UPDATE:
I have added a post from a Volunteer Firefighter who was called out the first day of the fire and he shares what he saw and heard. Volunteers Made us #KSProud is the story of one of the volunteers who went out later in the week to relieve guys that had been fighting for days.

-A Kansas Farm Mom