A year ago, I was deep into telling the story of what was then the state's largest wildfire.
The Anderson Creek Fire that hit Barber County in late March 2016 killed cattle, burned fences and some lost their homes.
But over the next several months, I saw the rebirth from the ashes. With our spring issue of Kansas Agland coming out around the year anniversary, I decided to travel back to the Gyp Hills and tell the story of how ranchers, and the prairie, endured.
What I saw was the thick grass had grown back thanks to timely rains. And many cedar trees that had overtaken the area, which suck water out of the ground, choke out grasses and are a dangerous fuel source in a wildfire, were dead.
These ranchers talked of renewal, rebuilding and of hope.
Spring Agland mailed on March 1. We wanted to share the story with our Hutch News readership March 12.
But nature had other plans.
On the weekend of March 5, fires broke out all over the state, that includes Reno County, where 12,000 people were evacuated north of Hutchinson. Then, on March 6, the Starbuck fire that would burn 500,000 acres in Clark, Comanche and Meade counties, was blowing into Kansas. All told, it is about 100,000 acres bigger than Anderson Creek.
Moreover, the losses are more horrific.
I saw this as I headed to the Gardiner Angus Ranch just days after the fire burned across it. Just a year ago, I had visited them - doing a story on how the three Gardiner brothers - Greg, Mark and Garth - were leading the way in Angus genetics - working to create the best quality beef for consumers.
The scene, however, was like a battle zone. The land was scorched. Ash and sand were blowing, piling like snow against the feed bunks. The dead cattle were still scattered in the burned pastures - at least 500 carcasses.
The county estimates the death toll between 3,000 and 9,000.
The experience was beyond emotional and horrific as Greg let me ride around with him in his pickup across the ranch. He told how some ranchers lost everything. The cattle were their paychecks.
Now folks here need help in the way of fence materials and fence builders, hay and monetary funds as they work to rebuild their lives.
They also need prayers.
Recovering from this could take longer. It might not be possible for some. But I pray that sometime down the road, the scars and pain won't be as deep. Remember, we couldn’t imagine anything worse than Anderson Creek. The story a year later shows there is hope.
- Amy Bickel