WASHINGTON, March 8, 2017 – Ranchers in the central U.S. are trying to assess the damage from wildfires that roared across more than a million acres of prime cattle country since the weekend, mostly in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. At least six people were killed and the livestock losses could reach into the millions of dollars.
In Kansas, Larry Konrade of the town of Ashland told The Wichita Eagle how he spent the day Tuesday helping a Clark County rancher destroy cows that were badly burned but had survived the flames. He says he alone probably shot about 40 animals.
“It was just a matter of putting animals out of their misery, doing them a favor,” he said. “They were going to die anyway.”
Randall Spare, a local veterinarian, told the newspaper that his customers lost at least 1,600 adult cattle and probably another 500 calves. Most of the fire damage in Kansas was in Clark Country. In all, the fires have blackened about 650,000 acres in more than 20 counties in the state, forcing thousands to flee their homes.
By Wednesday evening, officials said the human death toll from the fires in the four states had reached six, with hundreds of structures destroyed. Three of the deaths occurred in the Texas Panhandle where flames overtook three ranch hands, including a young couple, trying to save cattle.
The Texas A&M Forest Service estimates at least 440,000 acres have been affected by the fires in eight Panhandle counties, and some fires continue to burn. Officials also says about 1,500 head of cattle may have been killed. Also in Texas, in Ochiltree County, a commercial hog barn was destroyed, killing as many as 500 animals.
Relief efforts to aid ranchers affected by the fires are underway. The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association was soliciting hay donations. In Oklahoma, a relief fund was started by the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation to assist members affected by wildfires.
More than 400,000 acres were charred in Oklahoma, where Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency in 22 counties. The fires were blamed for at least one death in the state, a 63-year-old woman who had a heart attack while fighting the flames alongside her husband in Harper County, according to the state Department of Emergency Management.
Officials say the wildfire threat remains high in the region due to dry weather, strong winds and parched vegetation. On Wednesday, the National Weather Service issued a critical fire risk warning for the Texas Panhandle into Oklahoma, Kansas and western Missouri.
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