Thursday, May 03, 2018

Oklahoma fires leave houses in ashes, kill livestock

Wildfires fueled by drought, dry vegetation, 100-year old cedar trees and high winds raged across thousands of acres of land in neighboring Oklahoma counties in April, consuming 286,196 acres in Dewey County on the Rhea Fire, and 62,432 acres on the 34 Complex Fire in Woodward County. And while the fires are 100 percent contained, the ashes they left behind are something the people of Oklahoma will be sifting through for months. Dewey County rancher Joe Farris found his 8,000-acre ranch in the middle of the Rhea Fire on April 19. “I got a call that there was a fire in Rhea. Our most westerly land we operate is just north of there a few miles on the north side of the South Canadian River. We knew if it crossed that river we would have cattle in harm's way, so I left here (Woodward) and headed for that property, cut the fence between me and the neighbor who had a green wheat field, and moved around 30 cows and calves into the wheat. From there, we went to numerous other pastures east of there, and started getting them into areas that had a short amount of fuel —short grasses or wheat or corrals,” says Farris, who partners with his son, Flint. “By night, the fire jumped the river and came across. Much of the fire area has 100-year old growth of cedars and brush and a mixture of farm and ranchland, but primarily ranchland. And with the combination of the high winds in the low humidity, the fire was almost unfightable. Everyone was out trying to fight the fire; the producers were out trying to get their cattle safe and this continued for several days.” Then the wind changed, and every pasture the Farris’s manage over a 20-mile radius burned. The father and son run between 300 to 400 mother cows along with yearlings and breeding heifers. They also sell bulls and replacement heifers. “We saved most of them,” says Farris, who is also senior vice president of Bank of Western Oklahoma at Woodward. “We have one section with our red herd. We had moved them to a safe place but when the fire came, it was so intense, apparently, the heat scared them enough they left the safe area and went to the timber, and it got everyone of those except six —six calves got in the county road and went across and were not killed. We lost 52 out of that pasture.”...Now that his family is safe and his cattle are being cared for, Farris says the daunting task of fence repair awaits. “There's miles and miles of fence, even a lot of the fence that's up has fire damage, which takes the tensile out of the barbed wire, making it rust and break. Much of it has to be replaced, some of it can be repaired. Anywhere that there was wood it's gone.” The electricity also went out, leaving cattlemen like Farris, who use an electric pump to water their cattle, scrambling for a way to water them. “Just those little things you were working with every day, you don’t have...MORE

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