March 6, 2017, started like any other day in western Kansas. High winds were forecast and fire warnings issued. Little did I know we were about to experience the largest wildfire in Kansas history, totaling more than 502,000 acres. I was notified around noon that a fire was headed straight toward cows we had in Meade County. We started gathering and moving them north to wheat. Wind shifts caused the fire to head straight toward my hometown of Englewood. My friend, Mark Gardiner of Ashland, called and said my house was fine as he was assessing the fire, not knowing his own home was soon to be overtaken. The fire picked up speed and blew right through Englewood, pastures, houses and almost all of Clark County. It was hell, but miraculous stories of lives being protected abound.
The days that have followed have been tough. Many cows in wide-open pastures didn’t have a chance due to the speed of the fire. One estimate is that it burned 940 acres per minute. The pain, fear and suffering livestock went through has been unspeakable. So many animals had to be put down. This probably has been the hardest part of the whole experience. We are all in this business to care for our animals. Seeing the suffering makes our hearts ache, and we all want to help. We knew the humane thing to do was euthanize these animals, but we struggled.
A friend told me he came upon a cow standing over her calf, which was lying down and couldn’t get up. The cow and calf both were blind, burnt and in tremendous pain, but she was standing over her calf sensing the circling coyote and doing everything she could, even in her weakened state, to protect her calf. He said this was by far the hardest one he had to put down.
Amidst this tragedy, it has been an amazing thing to experience the love and caring of so many people. Unfortunately, because of the Anderson Creek fire last year, the KLA staff has experience dealing with wildfire relief. They immediately stepped up with information and coordinated with people in Ashland to get hay and fencing supplies to us. Thank you, Jeff and Neil Kay of Ashland Feed and Seed for directing hay trucks to ranchers, and stockpiling hay for use in the days ahead. People from across the U.S. continue to show love and support for us through donations of hay and fencing supplies to meet our immediate needs. KLA staff has been helping cut through red tape to get disaster assistance from the state and nation quicker.
The outpouring of support into our community has been overwhelming, from food and supplies to many, many people showing up just to help. Most of us came down from our adrenaline rush just in time for friends to show up and help. That was appreciated far more than anyone can imagine. We are providing a support system for each other, but the love shared by the rest of the nation has been very heartwarming.
Most of all, we thank the volunteers. One local volunteer fireman said we went from being good friends to family after facing these flames together. They risked their operations and cattle to save the property of others. My neighbor, Mike McCarty, was running Greg Goodnight’s disk at my house, saving it, while the flames were overtaking his cattle and possibly his home.
A few days after the event, during a debriefing of the Englewood Fire Department, amazing stories were told. These guys are tough. I expressed that a simple thank you was so inadequate. After fighting for 40 hours straight, a strike force from Colorado finally gave them some relief.
All of us affected by this fire can’t thank each of you enough for your prayers, calls, texts, hay, helping hands and monetary donations to the Kansas Livestock Foundation. Suffice it to say, I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of our industry, our state and our nation.
Click here to donate now. The Million Dollar match program ends July 31, 2017
Reprinted with permission from the Kansas Livestock Association.