The Anderson Creek Fire that started March 22 in Woods County, Oklahoma, is still burning through Comanche and Barber County in Kansas as of March 28.
Kansas officials are reporting the fire is 31 percent contained in Barber County and 90 percent contained in Comanche County after a 1-inch snow fell Easter Sunday over the fire line.
Even though the flames are still going in parts of the largest wildfire in Kansas history, thoughts are now turning to recovery efforts in this ranching country.
One immediate concern will be rebuilding miles of fences that the wildfire consumed in its path. Kyle Jacobs, an FFA advisor for South Barber High School in Kiowa, Kansas, worked the fire as a volunteer firefighter on the scene.
“I saw all the work that those ranchers are going to have to do with all the fences that will need to be rebuilt,” he said. “And, I thought that by coordinating fence rebuilding, our kids could give back something to the farmers and ranchers who have donated to them and their activities all these years. And this was the easiest and most direct route.” Jacobs said he and another volunteer estimate that rebuilding ranch fences will take $6 to $12 million in supplies.
Jacobs has volunteered to be a point person on the ground to coordinate volunteers who would like to help rebuild fence, as well as donations of equipment and supplies. At first, he thought just his own FFA chapter would do this project, but it’s starting to grow.
“It’s turning into something larger than our community,” he said. “I’ve had people from up around Wichita call. Some from Pratt, too, have called asking to let them know when we plan to build. Other chapters have reached out and said, ‘you let us know when you’re ready and we’ll be there.’”
It’s a project that is close to home for some of Jacobs’ students.
“Actually, one of my students is on the fire department in Hardtner, Kansas, and he was out there on the fire,” Jacobs said. “Others are farm kids and they had to leave school last week to evacuate and move cattle out of danger. It’s been crazy and hectic.”
Jacobs said he’s going to contact organizations who are also collecting donations to somewhat coordinate efforts. But for now, he’s willing to help coordinate donations of supplies and labor as they come in.
“We had one lady from Cottonwood Falls call and said she’s got 100 to 200 T-posts to donate,” he said. “Another guy said he’s got 100 telephone poles that we can cut up for corner posts.”
As for the timing, Jacobs said he hopes that crews can start later this week at the southern end of the fire, in Oklahoma, and work their way north as it’s contained. The quicker that ranchers can get cattle back to some semblance of normal, the better.
“I know that down in Oklahoma, everything is pretty much contained, so our plan is to start on the south end and work our way north as soon as possible,” he said. His wife is an FFA advisor at South Central High School, and her chapter is looking to get a work crew together to start at the end of the week he estimated.
The scars of the wildfire aren’t just blackened ground; they’re in the minds of the people left on the ground to recover.
“I just know that it was like nothing I’ve seen before,” Jacobs said of his time fighting the massive fire. “You couldn’t get ahead of it and the wind. It was crazy.”
Maybe by starting to rebuild fences, ranchers and community members can find some closure from the flames.
To donate supplies or to volunteer to rebuild fence, call Kyle Jacobs, FFA advisor for South Barber High School, 620-491-3450.
To donate monetary funds to rebuilding efforts, the Kansas Livestock Foundation (the charitable arm of Kansas Livestock Association) has set up a fund for wildfire recovery. Tax-deductible checks can be made to the Kansas Livestock Foundation. Put “Disaster relief” in the memo line and send to 6031 S.W. 37th, Topeka, KS 66614.