Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wildfires and Ag Family

I am proud to be a part of the framework and fabric of people who provide food and fiber to our world. I am proud to be a part for many reasons but one of the best reasons is because we are one giant family. When one of us hurts, we all rally around and support them and try to help. I guess it is because we can easily put ourselves in their shoes and have a deep empathy for them. This week was one of those times when I hurt for my fellow farmers and ranchers.

Last year we saw what a huge, horrible wildfire could do when a large part of Barber County and some of the surrounding counties experienced a fire like we had not seen. The devastation to the fences, hay and grass were horrible but the injury to livestock was almost unbearable. As a community, we stepped up and provided hay, feed and fencing supplies. It did not fix everything but it did help tremendously. Who knew it would only be beginning of what we would see this year.

I have been watching with horror and sadness as the stories and pictures have come in from western Kansas. I cannot imagine the devastation and the heart break my fellow producers are going through. My heart also goes out to the rural communities who have had to evacuate and those who have lost property. Our rural communities are not only about the ag producers but also our neighbors who help support us and provide the goods and services we need to keep going. We are all in this together.

Time will tell but it seems that there are more fires and much more property lost this year. I also know it does not matter if the fire burned 300,000 acres or 3 acres if your house and property were in the middle. The property and livestock lost represent many years and in many cases multiple generations of hard work. Houses can be rebuilt, cows can be replaced but the scars will never be healed.

I have also read the stories of the lives lost during these wildfires by people just doing their jobs and in a couple of cases trying to save their livestock. I am not sure what I would do in that case, it is easy to say that cows are not worth a human life. I know I would beside myself it my livestock was in danger and I did not try to help them. We do not know what we would do or in what peril we would put ourselves until we are in the moment. It does show the dedication and care that farmers and ranchers have for their animals.

What I am most worried about is that this is only the beginning of a long stretch of dangerous fires. A wet summer and lots of grass created a tremendous fuel load and a dry, warm winter has made it only more dangerous. Now we have winds that never seem to let up and each puff of smoke on the horizon is a signal that no one is safe. I also worry about the brave men and women out fighting those fires. Most of them are volunteers and all of them are putting their lives on the line for us. I know they are stretched thin and fatigue often causes mistakes and in this case, mistakes can be fatal. I pray for rest and relief for the first responders and fire fighters also.

There are no mincing words, it is a bad situation. I hope that by the time this column is published the situation will be better, but I fear it will not be. It is a helpless feeling to talk to friends affected and read the accounts of the damage. I know many of you have already pitched in to help by sending hay, supplies or donating money. I also know that the donations are greatly appreciated and I suspect the knowledge that fellow farmers and ranchers are supporting them is just as important.

If you are want to help, I urge you to go through channels such as KLA to make sure the aid gets to where it needs to go. I also urge you to go through those sources because they know what is needed and are coordinating the efforts. A call into your local Extension Office, KLA or Kansas Farm Bureau will help insure that your donation will have the greatest impact and relief.

I also urge you to pray for relief for the affected areas and protection for the rest of us. Hopefully this dry, windy weather pattern will break and we can step back and assess the damage. If you are affected know that you have the support and empathy of your fellow farmers and ranchers behind you. We are a community and we will recover. That I know for sure and because of that I am proud.

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