Dave and Mindy Brass were in Coldwater when they got a message from their daughter, Victoria, a county agent in Comanche County.

As a local volunteer firefighter, she had been called to a wildfire burning in Woods County, Oklahoma.

“We saw the smoke, and it was a very windy day, but we thought, ‘That smoke is a long ways off. It isn’t going to get up here,’ ” Dave Brass said.

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A firefighter watches as a controlled burn helps keep the Brass Ranch home safe as the Anderson Creek wildfire near the ranch in March, 2016.

Still, the family decided it didn’t hurt to prepare. They went home and began working on the fire truck, and all the while, the smoke was getting closer and bigger.

That night, “it came screaming through just to the west up here, just west of our mailbox,” Dave Brass said.

Time was a blur. The night rolled on as Dave and a crew tried to water down buildings. Mindy loaded everything she could into the vehicle – pictures, heirlooms and her daughter’s wedding invitations. Victoria was to get married in six weeks.

She drove to the top of a hill a few miles away and watched the fire from a distance. She could see flames not far from the house.

“From my point of view, I thought everything was gone,” she said.

The next morning, they learned the fire was circling back toward them. Dave Brass and neighbors lit a backburn – a fire guard around the house.

“Doing that, we were able to protect 50 acres right north of the house, and the house,” he said.

Other stories are similar. Tom Carr and his son, Dustin, visiting from Illinois the week before Easter, sat in a freshly worked-up field as the fire blazed around them. They had just finished moving some equipment to the field and spraying down a metal shed on the property.

“You have no idea how fast a 50 mph wind can push a fire,” he said, adding that it burned hot, even burning up the 76 hay bales on the edge of the field.

The fire was heading to Sun City and Lake City when the wind switched, saving those towns.

Meanwhile, the same thing happened in Medicine Lodge, Carr said. His wife and daughter-in-law had the car loaded, ready to evacuate the town.

“The wind switched when it got to Medicine Lodge. It came out of the north,” Carr said, adding it kept the fire to the south of town. “It got so dark in Medicine Lodge the lights came on.”

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Dave and Patty Johnson did not lose their home in last year's wildfire, but they did lose many cattle, seen at the ranch Jan. 19, 2017.

David Johnson, who operates the Deerhead Ranch not far from Lake City, took the Deerhead firetruck to Oklahoma on that Tuesday night to help fight the fire. By Wednesday, he drove the firetruck to Sun City to help with the fires that were spreading there. At that time, crews didn’t think the fire would hit his ranch.

Things drastically changed. Johnson’s wife, Patty, got on the radio calling for help. Neighbors came and began discing around her home, as well as their daughter’s nearby home. They cut fences to let cattle into a neighboring pasture.

It got up to all four sides of their home, Johnson said.

“Four different neighbors showed up to put out the fire,” he said. “It was from our neighbors helping that we saved everything.”

Other blessings were seen after the wildfire, as well, including a miracle snow that helped end the fire.

“We saw many miracles,” said Carr. “Easter morning we had a 3-inch snow – I mean, it had God written all over it. And it was amazing, the intensity of that fire and nobody was killed and nobody lost their life – with all these volunteers coming in this rough country who didn’t know one hill from another. It was just amazing.”

Carr, president of the Gyp Hills Prescribed Burn Association, said prevention was the topic of their January burn association meeting. That included creating corridors to help prevent a fire, such as cultivated crop areas and other corridors that could help stop a fire from jumping a boundary like a highway or river. That might mean removing as many cedars from the roadways as possible.

“The embers from those big old cedars travel,” he said.

Also, the association wants to develop education workshops that will help with training, including training more burn bosses – leaders who can take charge of a scheduled burn so the association can conduct more prescribed burns at different ranches.

Another issue: fireproofing residences and homesteads. That might include putting tin roofs on barns or taking on trees in the yard. Discussion could eventually include input from towns like Lake City, Sun City and Medicine Lodge, which nearly were hit by the wildfire.

“What can we do to protect those towns?” asked Carr.

Kansas Agland Editor Amy Bickel's agriculture roots started in Gypsum. She has been covering Kansas agriculture for more than 15 years. Email her with news, photos and other information at abickel@hutchnews.com or by calling (800) 766-3311 Ext. 320.

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