If you haven’t been viewing the news recently, you may have missed that the southern half of the Great Plains are on fire. Literally. Grasslands in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado have been caught in severe prairie fires that have left (at this time) six people dead as well as quite a few livestock.
These are not simple controlled burns (which are lit to accomplish a specific purpose with safety in mind) that have burned past their targets, but out-of-control wildfires that continue to ignite new territory. As of March 8th, 800,000 acres had burned. The city of Ashland, Kansas, had to be evacuated. These fires have been sparked by dry conditions in these states and complicated by wind moving the flames rapidly across the dormant grass.
Although prairie fires might seem like a motif from a western movie, the drama involved in those pieces of fiction is more terrifying in real life. Fast-moving fires travel with the wind, which at times gusts up to 60 or 70 mph. The fires can move faster than humans or livestock can run, giving them little time to get out of the way.
The livestock injuries may be the hardest for a person outside of agriculture to understand. “Why isn’t there a safe place to put the animals?” you may ask. Once again, it is the speed of the fire that causes the issue. Cattle, especially cows on pasture, are spread out over several miles of land. Trying to round them up and move them is quite difficult, as the smoke and fire makes them excitable and behave irrationally. Add to this that even unburnable places, such as bare dirt, are still inundated with smoke that will kill the animals through asphyxiation.
Do farmers and ranchers try to take steps to help their livestock during fires? Absolutely, but remember how fast these fires can move. One of the people who perished in this fire died while trying to move the livestock to a safe location.
If you would like to help, there are several organizations taking donations to pass along to affected farmers and ranchers. These include the Kansas Livestock Association, the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Northeast Colorado Farmers Helping Farmers and the Texas Department of Agriculture. The names of each association are hyperlinked to take you directly to the donation pages. All groups would be appreciative and will pass along any type of donation to the affected people.