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Honored Advisor

Thoughts from Englewoods fire chief on Thanksgiving from SW

This was begun on another thread that turned to to some questions about the fires of March 6, in sw ks.  Enjoy this wonderful day.


Report on a call made to the fireman 


My friend has been interviewed and televised a lot.  So I have left him alone.  He is a wonderful guy who does what needs to be done and takes care of others.  He is the guy who will pull you out of the car and disappear when he knows your ok.  I can waste paragraphs saying how long I have known him and handled those hereford calves his family produced in duplication.  I won't.


The conversation gave me a few interesting facts from his life this year and I would like to share a few of them.


1.  That day there were fires in 20 counties in KS.......their three county area made up 75% of the acres burned.  They put out the calls for help quickly as the 20ft high flames rushed across the county.  Not one county in Kansas could provide assistance...The state had no funds for emergency use....       Oklahoma on the other hand had placed trucks and crews at Woodward in anticipation based on weather conditions.


2.  Usda....... provided a death by weather financial program for cattle with the anti rich limit.  Then instructed ranchers to leave them lay where they burned or were shot.  No burial.... leave them for the predators as nature would.....after inspection for proof of loss.  Usda did those inspections from an airplane... while the ranchers worked and lived in the smell.      The ranchers saw that they were buried in most cases, for public safety and to get it behind them.


3.  CRP......... Large acres of Overgrown CRP located in ranch country, was the single most contributing factor in not being able to stop or control the fires.  

He is in meetings currently with oklahoma and kansas congressmen to address the rules of the crp program that are responsible for much of the damage.  Wisdom on the local level is never present, always dictated from on high.


4.  One human death.... a truck driver....  "If he had just stayed in his truck, we had him protected"  .... "He jumped out and ran.....didn't make 100 yards in that smoke."   He has assessed the equipment after the fire.  "We have bulged windshields and a melted dashboard in fire trucks,  We  were fortunate not to loose more lives."


5   Facebook............. Facebook formed the connective tissue between the ranchers and the amazing network of support that came from as much as 1200+ miles away.


6   Help unexpected........... on the 3rd day of fighting fire, with exhausted crews and two firetrucks being repaired a suburban drove in and answered the "what do you need" response with 6 Firetrucks the next morning.  The two airplanes requested would take another day, but those 6 trucks and full crews were there in hours...... The Denver metro and Colorado Springs Fire Departments helped finally knock out the fire.  "Those guy's know how to fight a wind driven fire, we just told them where they could help".


7  Feed unlimited........... Calls still come, "Can we bring you some Feed"  They get it assessed and distributed...... some comes that no one needs.... like a load infested with fire ants..... but most is distributed and needed.......  Absolutely wonderful feed with 1200 miles on it can bring a tear to a ranchers eye.


8  Fence building ........ usda isn't paying until the fence is built ......... there is a financial dilemma...   "teach me" builders came all summer......... A group of Ohio state highway truck drivers came --several guys....... and stayed..... I suppose the state road department was backing them...... built fence until they went home to drive the snow plows this winter.  At least one said "I'll see ya in the spring".


9 Trucking.......... My friend lost near 300 cows, but lost 60+ miles of fencing (leased and owned pastures)(His dad lost another 30 mile of fence)..... They run more head than that and fortunately many were away from the home place and out of the fire area and the fire did not get all their acres, but now with no home pastures to come back to are being shuffles to wheat pastures and other locations.  "All summer we have been shuffling cattle, pairing and repairing momma's and calves, loading and unloading.........All extra work.....Even this week we had trucks working in the area that won't let us pay for more than a little fuel if that much."


10.  Supplies........ "We started buying fencing supplies as fast as possible... Suppliers have had special prices and we can't start regrowing herds until the fences are back up.  A crew can do about 3 miles a week.  We have two crews going and it takes one man full time just keeping materials ahead of them"................."crews are working all over the area."  

Usda wants us done by May so they can start funding some of this......"I expected 5 years but we just might make their deadline."  


11  The mental loss and age............ There are over 15,000 acres for sale in that area already grass and farm land.  Because when the fences are up and the emergency loans used then begins the rebuilding of those herds........


12   a bit personal, but a picture of the mental strength of the folks who ranch and farm that area........ My friends mom has been cooking for me since I was 9 yrs old as we shared work with them for 40+ years.  She has advancing  parkinson's, checked herself into a retirement home for care shortly after the fire.... "We got bigger problems, I am taking care of this one."


finally........ in that nice long conversation, the day before Thanksgiving, I got a feel for the tired discouragement he has, a quote from the Gardner Ranch neighbor "We gotta keep moving forward", and a list of things he is grateful for.


I complain too much


Hope you can find things to be Thankful for today..


14 Replies
Veteran Advisor

Re: Thoughts from Englewoods fire chief on Thanksgiving from SW

? 4 U SW. R the boys "buying" back their herd
Or "raising" them back.

Are they importing humpbacks from the south
Due to cost, and try to call out later as resources
Become available
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Honored Advisor

Re: Thoughts from Englewoods fire chief on Thanksgiving from SW

My friend has enough left to grow it back in a few years..... but $970 is not going to replace and the limit only covers about 100 hd .. so maybe they could buy back similar for double that  or 50 head ............... usda is stretching the "anti rich" provision and allowing a 100K limit for both husband and wife .... so they can buy back 100 head of their 270 loss.....

The fence, pens and structures are going the to be the debt mountain that will take many years to recover from.  That is the real uphill battle.  usda is helping with 75% of the first 20 miles of fence...... They will have about 90 miles when it's all said and done.  They will have about 10K per mile of debt on most of it...... that is the long term rebuilding job.


That county alone will have built 4500 miles of fence .... which will take 45 million dollars to replace not counting extra for corners and gates.  Usda has committed 18 million and is providing access to loans.  Believe me they are appreciative.... But it will be a big hole to climb out of.......


The ranches in the center who lost everything will be in the worst problems.  Like Gardner Ranch,,, a top angus breeding herd.  That herd is gone and took decades to develop.  Those genetics can't be bought back.  I assume they had some private insurance help.


Some of these ranches will take 20-40 years to gain back their equity position. replacing the cows is just the start.

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Honored Advisor

Re: Thoughts from Englewoods fire chief on Thanksgiving from SW

elcheapo, when you consider the age of most ranch and farm owners, those years of rebuilding and repaying loans  become even more difficult to consider, that is what is driving several of the land sales.

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Veteran Advisor

Re: Thoughts from Englewoods fire chief on Thanksgiving from SW

SW, really appreciate you taking the time to post all the information on the affect of the fires long term on the cattlemen. I know they are made of tough stock , but your posts makes me realize I don't even begin to understand the challenges ahead for those folks. When decisions come from the top of chain (USDA), in spite of good intentions and still helping in some ways, they often lack so much common sense and unnecessary harm. Never even thought about the CRP angle in the hole picture.


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Honored Advisor

Re: Thoughts from Englewoods fire chief on Thanksgiving from SW

Thank you ------------- i don't mean to pick on usda or anyone else.  They are providing a lot of help and incentive to "keep putting one foot in front of the other" to get the rebuilding done..... Without that cost share carrot and a timeline out there to go with the loans, a lot of older ranchers probably would not rebuild and sell for less.  They have worked and adjusted the programs to fit needs as much as possible... usda impresses me when they deal with emergencies....They have good people...

Problems come when careers and outside interests begin to "wag the dog".  ie ..........  CRP...... that 10 year program that is going on 50 years where trees were once welcomed then when hunting organizations complain they are set of rules fit all...... sometimes............ sometimes not.......

Frustrations for me come with our inability to see that every new "fad" comes with a dark side...... examples..... allowing environmental groups and animal rights organizations to have irrational influence.... and ignoring the local advisory boards at the county level.  To the point of demonizing ranchers at the complaint of a highly funded group living in LA. who care for nothing and care about everything.(and feed nobody) 

I for one, am a bit supprised that there has not been picketing protests over the fact that fences are being rebuilt......... barbed wire is being used, and the ranchers were allowed to bury roting carcuses in fear of starving predators. 


We need government, and we need departments that oversee and enhance our activity, get their educations from midwestern land grant schools and not political conventions.   Not every resident deserves a voice in everything.  Usda needs to say no when the congressman or the housewife demands we change the rules or allow someone else to dictate rules just because they write checks.  And we need to back those usda folks who have backbone enough to ignore those who want to use their department for political causes disguised to look "good for us", or good for the desperately important "ruse of the day".


CRP here by Hwy 83 south of Garden City is in irrigation and dry land grain crop country...... 50 miles east of us where hwy 283 crosses into Okla. it is totally a ranch world.  CRP is totally mismanaged in both places.....  The rules now are dictated by the hunting organizations, bird habitat, and the Buffalo commons environmental thought..... where the minds of many of our newer usda employees live.  We have local FSA employees who go to work saving the environment from those farmers their predicessors worked with.  They don't take the time to learn.  What they "know" is all that is important.


I would really like to see legal action against the administration of the CRP program so that the discussion of management choices could be public and held responsible--maybe even evaluate the effectiveness and the goals of the program overall.  From the original choice of grasses for this area(tall stemmy to avoid grazing potential --Ks)(short grasses w better food value --Okla) Oklahoma was influenced more by ranching... kansas ranchers did not influence)

,,even to the timing of maintenance(like mowing and grazing) to enhance bird habitat rather than controling overgrowth or encouraging higher quality short grasses in the mix.   The choices are never "politically simple".


I'd like to hold that president who stood in front of congress and the cameras and swore how switchgrass and cellulosic technology would transform energy production accountable....... When that technology never existed at the time and still does not.  And the second president who maintained the ruse and poured hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds into special interest pockets gaining some  campaign funds back.


We stumble and crawl our way through a lot of good intentions.


I am pretty proud of Fireman/Rancher Smith, he is tired and discouraged and still taking the time to talk to congressional "aides" about CRP management.  



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Veteran Contributor

Re: Thoughts from Englewoods fire chief on Thanksgiving from SW

Hindsight is 20/20 and I understand the devastation this fire caused but it sounds like a lot of reliance on USDA to recover. I only run 100 pairs and breed heifers and I carry insurance on them. My equipment used for grain farming is insured. Did most not have their primary means of production insured ??
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Honored Advisor

Re: Thoughts from Englewoods fire chief on Thanksgiving from SW

Yes many had private insurance


The problem with hindsight is we never use it......   except for a reason to not use it.


As long as it is somebody elses money we never evaluate the programs or the results.


Just to the NE of the fire stands a town of 1500+ people(by census, but closer to 1100 residents) that was hit by an F5 tornado in 2006 that destroyed 95% of the structures in town and killed 10 in town(2 more in area). 

Older folks moved to children or other locations.... Schools in the area made plans include the kids to continue education.  utilities water grocery everything gone.....  (scattered across the landscape)

Then came camera's, news crews, the governor, and eventually the President in a helicopter.  The decision to rebuild (with taxpayer assistance) became a Washington--good PR move for "the Country" 


Today Greensburg, Ks has new Schools, hospital, Courthouse, grocery, Utilities, museum, all electricity by wind generation.

It was rebuilt "green" as required, the Greenest town in America.  New structures built to the worlds LEED standards (Leading Energy and Environmental Design)


The Governor moved on to a Washington job for the next president.  The President moved on his legacy in environmental concern (with its imaginary "switchgrass biomass research") and the town of Greensburg has a population of 771.







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Veteran Advisor

Re: Thoughts from Englewoods fire chief on Thanksgiving from SW

Where is the  media in doing "the rest of the story" on Greensburg?  Maybe they have covered it and I missed it.


SW, the best thing about the internet, is the ability to hear about things from 'boots' on the ground.  Say it again, thanks for posting. A great read.


As for the ranchers, looks like the difference for many will come down to how good of private insurance they had, which is the way it should be. I read how some farmers are looking at healthcare policies that have a million dollar cap or so, and I think, they are totally clueless how high medical costs are these days.  Several cancer treatments run a quarter to half a million a year, some a million. A long hospital stay with a major surgery would blow through a million quickly. I think a week in ICU is about 100,000, but that was over ten years ago. Now some add a catastrophic plan on the back end..a necessity in my book.  I believe they have a right to chose that insurance, but they also comes with the right to lose their farms to pay their medical bills.  With out of control healthcare costs, and pharma and big med writing the laws with their lobbying, there will be no solution to health insurance costs. All healthcare costs in my book should fully deductible from income pretax for all.

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Honored Advisor

Re: Thoughts from Englewoods fire chief on Thanksgiving from SW

The media is not the media,  they are as much opportunists as the guy in the chopper or the gal in Topeka,  just looking to gain from an opportunity.

The idea of media being the moral watchdogs (or even an intelligent observer) has become a pipe dream ....... they never analyze or hindsite anything any more.  Can't even tell what is hype and what is real.... or what is just a guy trying to get the most out of his tanning bed.  Smiley Happy


And healthcare does tie in somewhat to that thought....... I don't want to offend, because we all deal with accellorated deteriation in our later years in some way or another.  And health care is infact managing our time "on the field".  But no matter how much we plan and treat and spend, the clock still runs out at some point, the aging process is not avoidable.

Not saying we should not spend or treat,,,, Totally agreeing with you on the costs and the number of "well"meaning folks that line up to charge the elderly and present the vision of regaining youthful joy through financial transfer.  

But I do take comfort in knowing that, so far,,,,,,, the law has not taken away my right to say no.

I have two good friends who researched their heart health issues and "passed" on the doctor recommendations because they did not agree with family and doctor that another "maybe" year was worth any price.... in a battle that is eventually lost for us all.

Both were recommended for heart transplant and one was just 38.  He said --- "always have them explain how they measure success when they are selling optimism.  It wasn't my idea of the best choice."


Evaluating the choices we make is something we avoid and usually the choices that are most cost effective are made early in the game, not in the 4th quarter.  Health care is one area where choices are tough and you know health care better than I..... you have a good connection.


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