Kansas rebuilds: one year after the wildfires

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Oklahoma wildfire
In March of 2017, wildfires swept through parts Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Colorado and Kansas burning hundreds of thousands of acres of land and killing thousands of cattle and horses. (Oklahoma State University photo)

A year ago, the Giles Ranch lost almost everything. 

Thirty thousand acres of ranch land burned.

Nearly half their cattle herd (around 500 head) and 80 percent of their calf herd, dead.

Their barns, their storage sheds and their homes, gone in an instant.

On March 6, 2017, fires swept through parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Colorado and Kansas, burning over a million acres of land and killing thousands of cattle and horses.

The Giles Ranch, in Ashland, Kansas, fell victim to the flames.

“Our ranch burned off in about 2 hours,” said Jenny Giles. Her home along with her two sisters’ homes were destroyed.

But their family was safe.

According to the National Weather Service, the southwestern region of Kansas received around a half inch of rain in April. Three-tenths of that came for the Ashland area April 20. (Submitted photo)

Still dry

According to Giles, last summer following the fires was a good summer. The area stayed wet and allowed for some regrowth. But they have been dealing with drought-like conditions since September.

“We’ve had no measurable moisture. Except for a half inch in March, we are extremely dry,” she said.

“This year, we have been so dry that we are not looking good,” said Walter Fick, a range management specialist for Kansas State University.

“Normally by now, in the middle of April, things should be greening up. A lot of our growth is two to three weeks behind normal.”

Fick said the first year following the wildfire, recovery depends on the amount of rainfall and producers will likely still see the effects of a major wildfire after two years.

“It could take up to three years to recover. Drought on top of that causes more damage,” he said.

I hear thunder that I haven’t heard in months. There’s rain on my windshield right now.

-Amy France

Rain

According to the National Weather Service, the southwestern region of Kansas received around a half inch of rain in April. Three-tenths of that came for the Ashland area April 20.

“I hear thunder that I haven’t heard in months. There’s rain on my windshield right now,” Amy France told Farm and Dairy Friday, April 20.

“In my part of the state, we haven’t had any significant, moisture since October. It’s really, really good to see my windshield covered in rain drops,” she said.

A year ago, France served on the Kansas Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers committee and connected Ohio farmers with Kansas farmers in need. Over 50 trucks and trailers traveled to the state in late March, bringing hay and supplies to their fellow farmers in Ashland, Kansas.

“I was just one small piece of that puzzle and it still gives me goose bumps to think about it,” she said.

A group of Ohioans traveled to the Ashland, Kansas, area to help remove burned and damaged fence. (Submitted photo)

Rebuild

Some of those Ohioans made it out to the Giles ranch, where Jenny said they helped take out old fence. “We’ve replaced over 100 miles of fence,” she said. 

The fires hit ahead of most schools’ spring break, and many students volunteered their time to help on farms. Some of the students from southwest Kansas schools came back to help again this year. “They were glad to see a difference and see how their work helped,” said Giles.

It’s been over a year now, and the Giles family has almost completely rebuilt the ranch. The shop was complete right before Christmas and two hay sheds went up this year. Giles said the only thing left to finish is the farm office.

Jenny and her family were also able to move into their new home before Christmas and her sister, Katie, and her husband plan to move into their new home by August. Her sister, Molly, and her husband hope to start building in the fall.

“There’s little things every day. You go to grab things and it’s not there,” she said. “You go to do things and can’t because that piece of equipment isn’t there anymore.”

But the Giles have a plan, and like everything else in life, it takes time and money. “We’re anticipating another year until we are back to normal,” she said.

Giles said they are thankful to those from Ohio and all over the U.S. who brought hay and supplies in their time of need. “It got us through some really bad times,” she said. “You woke up the next day and you didn’t have any hay and the neighbors didn’t have any hay.”

The rebuilding continues, added France, because “the makeup of a farmer is universal. They are resilient, they are smart and they are determined. I just don’t think you can be a farmer without some of those traits.”

Related:

Facebook spurs army of Ohio farmers headed for Kansas

7-year-old Ohio boy gathers supplies for orphaned calves in Kansas

Ohioans plan second convoy to Ashland, Kansas

USDA offers financial assistance for producers

 

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Catie Noyes lives in Ashland County and earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture communications from The Ohio State University. She enjoys photography, softball and sharing stories about agriculture. Formerly a reporter for the Farm and Dairy, Catie is now pursuing her master's degree in education.

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