Texas Agriculture April 7, 2017 : Page 16

A time to rebuild, heal and start anew By Ed Wolff and Julie Tomascik Consumed. Unrelenting. Dev-astating. Three wildfires swept across the Texas Panhandle in early March, destroying nearly 500,000 acres. Farmers and ranchers sprang into action—moving cattle, pack-ing up families and building fire breaks. “My dad, my brother and I were out here trying to help the fire de-partment where we could and move cattle around to try to get out of the path of the fire,” Trent Cadra, Wheeler County rancher, said. The Lefors East fire burned about 135,000 acres, and Cadra runs cat-tle on 600 of those. His once grass-covered pastures turned to a black wasteland. He was able to save his cattle, along with his dad’s and his neigh-bors’. But others weren’t so lucky. Eighty miles north near Cana-dian, the largest of the three wild-fires—the Perryton Fire—devoured 38 miles of land from west to east. It ravaged four counties and it’s the third largest single fire in Texas history. More than 318,000 acres burned. “I was in town when we saw the fires starting. The helicopter with water buckets came over the house and they called and said, ‘Your wife is running around between the house and the barn. She needs to get out,’” Chris Schwerzenbach, Lip-scomb County rancher, recalled. “My wife was trying to get to the pickup. That didn’t work. It was burning across the road already. She was try-ing to run down to the barn, the met-al building. She thought that would be better than going out into it.” The first chance he had, Schwer-zenbach dove through the fire to his family—the flames literally at his doorstep. The fire raged. Flames licked the sky. The blazes grew. Five hours later, things calmed down. Everyone was okay, and his house was still standing. Just about everything else was lost, including 36 head of cattle. Every acre he owns burned. But from the tragedy came a community, and it was even larger than many could imagine. Before the smoke cleared and the last embers extinguished, fel-low farmers and ranchers across the state wanted to help. Strangers became friends. Neighbors became family. And miles didn’t matter. “Right now, I’ve got more hay than I have cattle thanks to people I’ve never met,” Schwerzenbach said. Farmers near and far donated hay by the truckload. Some drove 100 miles. Others 500 or more. Still more crossed state lines to help. “About daybreak, I got the truck out there by the hay pile and got the tractor and started loading. I left Waxahachie about 9:30 and got here about 4:30 in the afternoon,” said Scott Averhoff, an Ellis Coun-ty rancher who brought in a load of hay. “It’s just what neighbors do for each other. We may be 400 miles apart, but I still consider us neigh-bors.” 16 A PRIL 7 , 2017

From the Ashes

Ed Wolff and Julie Tomascik

A time to rebuild, heal and start anew

Consumed. Unrelenting. Devastating. Three wildfires swept across the Texas Panhandle in early March, destroying nearly 500,000 acres.

Farmers and ranchers sprang into action—moving cattle, packing up families and building fire breaks.

“My dad, my brother and I were out here trying to help the fire department where we could and move cattle around to try to get out of the path of the fire,” Trent Cadra, Wheeler County rancher, said.

The Lefors East fire burned about 135,000 acres, and Cadra runs cattle on 600 of those. His once grass-covered pastures turned to a black wasteland.

He was able to save his cattle, along with his dad’s and his neighbors’. But others weren’t so lucky.

Eighty miles north near Canadian, the largest of the three wildfires— the Perryton Fire—devoured 38 miles of land from west to east. It ravaged four counties and it’s the third largest single fire in Texas history. More than 318,000 acres burned.

“I was in town when we saw the fires starting. The helicopter with water buckets came over the house and they called and said, ‘Your wife is running around between the house and the barn. She needs to get out,’” Chris Schwerzenbach, Lipscomb County rancher, recalled. “My wife was trying to get to the pickup. That didn’t work. It was burning across the road already. She was trying to run down to the barn, the metal building. She thought that would be better than going out into it.”

The first chance he had, Schwerzenbach dove through the fire to his family—the flames literally at his doorstep.

The fire raged. Flames licked the sky. The blazes grew.

Five hours later, things calmed down. Everyone was okay, and his house was still standing. Just about everything else was lost, including 36 head of cattle.

Every acre he owns burned. But from the tragedy came a community, and it was even larger than many could imagine.

Before the smoke cleared and the last embers extinguished, fellow farmers and ranchers across the state wanted to help.

Strangers became friends. Neighbors became family. And miles didn’t matter.

“Right now, I’ve got more hay than I have cattle thanks to people I’ve never met,” Schwerzenbach said.

Farmers near and far donated hay by the truckload. Some drove 100 miles. Others 500 or more. Still more crossed state lines to help.

“About daybreak, I got the truck out there by the hay pile and got the tractor and started loading. I left Waxahachie about 9:30 and got here about 4:30 in the afternoon,” said Scott Averhoff, an Ellis County rancher who brought in a load of hay. “It’s just what neighbors do for each other. We may be 400 miles apart, but I still consider us neighbors.”

In only a week, donation sites were flooded with hay. So much that they stopped taking anymore.

Early estimates show that more than 13,500 large bales and more than 1,300 small square bales made their way to the supply points in the Panhandle. Donations of more than 310 tons of range cubes and 31,450 pounds of other feedstuffs were delivered.

Fencing supplies and monetary donations also came flooding in, helping ranchers travel the long road ahead.

The three fires—Lefors East, Perryton and Dumas—started March 6 and burned throughout the week, resulting in at least $21 million in agricultural losses. That number is expected to grow as farmers and ranchers uncover more damage and take into account the value of lost equipment.

Current estimates show about 2,500 cattle died, and more were displaced.

Now the rebuilding begins and various government programs can help.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for six Texas counties and activated the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency’s Emergency Loan program.

USDA announced $6 million in aid to help farmers and ranchers affected by wildfires in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service can provide land management advice and, in some cases, financial assistance to install measures that reduce post-fire damage and aid in the rehabilitation process through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

More information on disaster recovery can be found at texasfarmbureau.org/panhandle-wildfire-relief-fund.

Some rain has since fallen, helping the charred countryside heal. It will take time and some more help from Mother Nature, but Texas farmers and ranchers will rise from the ashes.

Read the full article at http://texasagriculture.texasfarmbureau.org/article/From+the+Ashes/2754914/398143/article.html.

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