The epicenter of the Kansas fire was in Clark County, where roughly 50 percent of the land was burned. It’s considered cattle country and is home to one of the most recognizable Angus breeders in the country, the Gardiner Ranch.
The family has been through droughts, blizzards, 60 inches of snow, but this fire will go down as the most challenging natural event that’s happened in five generations.
“Our April sale is the largest sale we have of the year,” said Greg Gardiner, co-owner of the Gardiner Angus Ranch.
This year, the Gardiners are lucky they have a sale at all. The usual lush green that normally covers the Gardiner Angus Ranch is replaced by the black, charred remains of a once pristine prairie.
The pastures and what’s left is nothing but ashes and blowing sand.
“None of us thought the fire had this type of breath and scope to it and it could do what it did,” said Gardiner. “This is something we’ve never ever seen in our lifetime.”
That day, Gardiner was out of town, rushing to get back to the ranch to save what he could.
“My wife was somewhat nervous –there’s nowhere to run,” he said. “You will live if you stay in these wheat pastures.”
Gardiner approached his brother, Mark’s home, now in ruins.
“That was my last visual contact with them,” he said. “It was like the world put a blind fold over you.”
Today, the skeletal remains of trees and hay bales of ash remain.
“I’ve tried to conduct my life in a way where you ride to the sound of the guns and you go to it,” said Gardiner. “I was so ashamed that day—when I turned and ran.”
He had no choice because the flames were rapidly approaching. It was 30 minutes before he found out his brother and his family was safe.
“It’s only by God’s help that happened,” he said. “If you think God wasn’t there, I mean, he was.”
His livestock were not so fortunate. The Gardiner’s lost roughly 500 head of cattle on their 48,000-acre ranch. Some died in the fire while others were wounded so badly, the Gardiners were unable to save them. The cattle were not insured.
“Several people ask how I could do that,” he said. “I’ve not allowed it to come back into my mind. The fact that my family is alive makes all the difference.”
The cattle pens contain some of the survivors. There are approximately 20 head, remnants of roughly 240 from a pasture near the inferno, all bearing the scars of battle.
Yet, the Gardiners have a legacy, known as a premier Angus breeder in the southern Plains. The Gardiner’s donor cows survived during the fire, saving multiple generations of genetics.
“If we would have lost these genetics, we would be up the river,” said Gardiner. “I expect two to three years, we can get our numbers back up relatively quickly.”
It’s the resilience of generations the Gardiner family already prepping for the future and like the southern Plains, showing fire can’t change every foundation.
Of the 48,000 acres of land on the Gardiner ranch, 42,000 of those were grass. Virtually all of the grass acres burned in the fire.
Gardiner said he had 6,000 round bales spread out over a five-mile distance so he wouldn’t lose them all during a possible disaster. Yet, he lost them all during the fire.
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