For weeks, Partridge cattle rancher Colby Harner thought about what he could do to help fellow ranchers who lost their homes, animals and sometimes their livelihood during the Dec. 15 fires that swept across Kansas.
Harner knew the ranchers needed fencing, as much of it was burnt and destroyed during December’s derecho. He and his family rent farmland that has hedge trees on it. He called up the landowner and asked if he could cut the trees down and donate the wood to ranchers in trouble. The landlord agreed.
Next, Harner pulled together a group of 15 men and they spent most of Saturday, Jan. 8, cutting up trees to make fence posts.
After each post was cut and measured, it was loaded onto a flatbed. Harner will drive the truck up to Russell during the week of Jan. 10, where it is going to be dispersed to ranchers in need.
The Kansas Forest Service estimated that nearly 165,000 acres were impacted by wildfire on Dec. 15. Kansans experienced the loss of crops, cattle, and their homes due to the wildfires in Ellis, Gove, Graham, Lane, Logan, Ness, Osborne, Rooks, Rush, Russell, Trego and Wichita counties.
On Dec. 16, Gov. Laura Kelly directed the Kansas National Guard and Kansas Forest Service to deploy aerial assets to the affected areas to assist with fire suppression efforts in multiple counties with active wildfires.
Along with everyday necessities, farmers and ranchers whose land burned are in need of grains, hay and medication for their cattle and horses. They also need fuel cards, stock tanks, panels, hay feeders, buckets, feed bunks, and gates until fencing can be established. As for fencing, there is a great need for T-posts, pipe, insulators, hedge posts and barbed wire.
Several organizations are helping to coordinate donations. Monetary donations are being handled through the Kansas Livestock Foundation and the Kansas Department of Agriculture. The Russell County Area Disaster Relief Fund is collecting goods and money for Russell County farmers and ranchers. People can donate to the Heartland Disaster Relief Fund to help farmers and ranchers in need in Ellis, Rooks and Trego counties.
But one ranch family in Rooks County decided to serve as a go-between as well. Jacque Harmon and her husband Jarrett, who run J.W. Livestock in Plainville, are serving as a drop-off point for hay, feed and now — fenceposts. They had a close friend who lost their house a little ways north of Hays.
“I was the drop-off place and it kind of escalated from there,” she said. “Then it got bigger and bigger.” Because just a small corner of the couple’s ranch was hit by the fire, the Harmon’s want to help the community.
“My husband has worked in close with these guys day in and day out,” Jacque Harmon said. “They go kind of from one place to the next and help each other. And over time they become your family too.”
It’s a tight-knit community, especially during calving season, she said. Harmon now spends the day dispatching hay and trying to get truckers lined up with those that have donated. She said the organization Ashes to Ashes has also been invaluable with both advice and hay donations. The Harmon’s can be reached at (785) 639-1010.
Although hay is being delivered, ranchers will need more through mid-May. As most of the grass is burnt, cattle can no longer graze on it.
“It’s (hay) going out just as fast as it’s coming in,” Jacque Harmon said. “So right now, we’re in our grass dormant time. Plus the weather hasn’t been super fantastic for growing grass.” Also, all the hay the ranchers had saved up or bought also went up in flames.
“There’s no forage, no nothing,” Harmon said “We’ve got to get them to May at least, till the grass starts coming back.” Harmon said more than 50 semi-loads were delivered to her and the community drop-off locations.
Additional information about recovery resources for farmers and ranchers, including mental health resources, can be found on the Kansas Department of Agriculture website. As reported in the Hutchinson News.