A multitude of wildfires rolled its way across the High Plains in early March and destroyed acres, homes, and took the lives of countless livestock. The Texas Panhandle was an area hit hard by the wildfire.
Texas fields are ready to plant as another season is upon Ryan Johnson, a farmer from Ochiltree County. It’s much harder to see from inside the cab of his truck where memories burn and images of the wildfire raging across the countryside still too fresh to call the past.
“I was actually on [a] tractor [when] I got the call,” said Johnson. “I just sat and looked up and there it was.”
The wildfire in Perryton, Tx. rolled through untamed and without discrimination. In Texas, half a million acres was charred.
The State Animal Health Commission estimates 2,500 head of cattle and 1,900 hogs were lost to the flames.
“I was up at the elevator and we got big liquid tanks we haul fertilizer around in—we started filling up tanks with water and bringing it to help,” said Cody Gerlach, a Perryton resident.
It’s hard to believe in March the terrain could look so different in two months’ time. The grass is growing back.
“It’s not grazeable yet,” said Johnson. “These recent rains are really helping us out, especially since we’re getting heat. It’s really helping.”
It’s moisture Texas producers don’t normally see. The National Weather Service (NWS) in Amarillo says pockets of Ochiltree County saw five to six inches of precipitation this spring, 200 to 300 percent above normal in April.
“If this were a drought year, this grass would not look this good,” said Gerlach.
Yet, ranchers say some producers may be able to put livestock back out to pasture this fall. For others, it may be years, depending on damage.
While restoring forage is a slow process, the community response has been fast.
“It was neat to see how a small town reacts to a disaster like this,” said Gerlach. “[It was nice] to see where all the people came in, they all helped each other out. No one was fighting. No one was angry. They all worked together. Our one common goal was to make sure that everyone was taken care of and it was pretty neat.”
Life is slowly getting back to normal, growing grass, planting crops and rebuilding fence.
“I’m sure there are people who are hurting worse off than they’re even talking about,” said Johnson.
These producers are resilient but their progress may be harder to see.
Drovers and The Farm Journal Foundation started “The Million Dollar Wildfire Relief Challenge” to raise money for ranchers to rebuild. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation says they’ll double donations up to $1 million.
So far, more than $500,000 has come in from 46 states. The funds will go to the Working Ranch Cowboy’s Association for grants to help rebuild fencing.