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Local efforts aid those affected by fires at home, elsewhere

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Farmers and ranchers in the area still are assessing the total damage from wildfires earlier this month, but efforts to help out are underway.

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Farmers and ranchers in the area still are assessing the total damage from wildfires earlier this month, but efforts to help out are underway.

At the same time, the agriculture community in the area is even sending help south to the Ashland area that saw even more devastating wildfires.

The main need in Ellis and Rooks counties is fencing material.

Rooks County producer JD Riffel is coordinating donation efforts with the Rooks County Farm Bureau. He said donations were slow early in the week, but the effort was just getting organized and ranchers are still determining what they need.

“Not everything’s been assessed, but it looks like we’re going to have more than 50 miles of fence affected. Whether or not that means it needs replaced we’re not 100 percent sure yet,” he said.

Only a couple head of livestock were lost in the fires that burned more than 10,000 acres in Rooks County, he said. He said 15 to 25 landowners were affected.

“It was a pretty large fire for what we have in our area, but its nothing compared to what they have down at Ashland,” he said.

In fact, he said they have been turning offers for help — especially food for cattle — to the Ashland area.

Only a few Rooks County producers lost a large amount of cattle feed, and their neighbors were able to help them, Riffel said.

“We had overwhelming phone calls from counties away, Nebraska, other areas from people wanting to donate feed. We directed them away to Ashland,” he said. “We ended up getting a lot more sent down there than we took in here.”

Offers have come in from neighboring counties to send fence-building crews, and a group of teenagers from Alabama even offered to come help build fences during their spring break.

“That was really nice to hear that people want to help like that. Unfortunately, we’re not going to be organized enough by spring break,” Riffel said, adding he recommended the teens offer their service in southern Kansas.

The Ellis County Farm Bureau also is coordinating donations for fencing supplies for the producers in the northeast part of the county, where approximately 4,900 acres burned.

Stephanie Eckroat is coordinating that effort, and she says it’s a way to pay back Ellis County producers for their generosity helping others in the state last year.

“We had donated quite a bit in the Medicine Lodge area, and we felt like this is an opportunity to give back to our local folks,” she said. “We decided to donate up here because we knew they weren’t going to get a lot of assistance.”

Fort Hays State University’s Sigma Alpha sorority conducted a supply drive last week to help those in southern Kansas. The group of agriculture women were matched up with Hays-based Lang Diesel Inc., through the Kansas Livestock Association, said Shelly Macumber, LDI marketing director.

Mariah Utter, a senior from Brewster, Neb., said the agriculture sorority wanted to find a way to help with those who suffered losses in the southern Kansas fires. The group has been in touch with FHSU alumni who live in the area.

A surprise came from welders in Russell who brought a trailer load of steel pipe that could be used for corner posts, Utter said. The pipe was in 35-foot lengths, but the man who brought it stayed two hours to cut them into shorter lengths to fit on the available trailer.

The group has also collected rolls of barbed wire, T-posts and bottles to feed calves. Several alumni from out of state have helped with cash donations, too, she said.

The efforts to help those both locally and in other parts of the state are indicative of the values in rural areas, Eckroat said.

“I’m so proud of our agriculture community. I just think it says a lot for agriculture and our morals and values and the life of the rancher and the farmer that they help each other out when needed,” Eckroat said.

Issue & Impact

ISSUE: Farmers and ranchers are assessing damage from the recent wildfires.

IMPACT: Donation efforts provide fencing material, other items both locally and in southern Kansas.

Juno Ogle has worked at The Hays Daily News since 1999 as a reporter, copy editor and graphic designer. She covers area businesses and events, and higher education, among other topics.