Monday, April 18, 2011
West Texas ranchers lose cattle, livelihood to fires
Bobby McKnight knew fire was coming when he saw the pall of white smoke rising into the blue West Texas sky April 9 and, within an hour, a 20-foot wall of flame had reached the rancher's Fort Davis home. "It was hot. It was just right in our doorstep," McKnight, 50, recalled on Saturday. His home was one of the first hit by the so-called Rock House fire, which was sparked by undetermined causes in Marfa, Texas, and became the fastest-moving wildfire to scorch the area in decades. By Sunday, it had seared at least 180,000 acres of land but was 70 percent contained The fire is one of about dozen that have consumed more than 500,000 acres over the past couple of weeks in drought-stricken West Texas, where some areas have gone without rain since last August, leaving grass and brush dangerously parched. At least 40 homes have been destroyed by the flames. No people have died, but the fires have killed at least 151 head of cattle and nine horses and laid waste to thousands of acres of grasslands -- a precious resource for the region's ranchers. The Rock House fire advanced 30 miles in a matter of hours, overtaking the town of Fort Davis and the ranches beyond it. Some ranchers in the area lost up to 95 percent of their land to the flames, said Logan Boswell, the Jeff Davis County extension agent tracking livestock affected by the fires. Between 400,000 and 500,000 cattle have been injured by the fire but survived, he said.