Greg Gardiner stepped through the door of the veterinary shed at Gardiner Angus Ranch and greeted Dr. Randall Spare, who was at the ranch semen testing some of the Gardiner bulls.
It’s business as usual on the ranch, as the Gardiner brothers are preparing for their spring sale April 6. If it were not for burned out trees scattered over the plain, you wouldn’t know that two years before 43,000 acres of the 48,000-acre ranch had burned in one of the state’s worst wildfires.
“The ranch is rebuilt, cow numbers are back to higher than before the fire,” Greg Gardiner said. “The only real big project we’ve got left is Mark’s house.”
The Starbuck Fire, which broke out in Oklahoma on March 6, 2017, spread to Kansas and burned two-thirds of Clark County’s 625,000 acres. Along with Mark Gardiner’s house, the ranch lost miles of fence and 600 cattle.
Along with the burnt out trees, Mark Gardiner’s house stands as a reminder of the fire two years later.
“They haven’t demolished it yet,” Greg Gardiner said. “It’s the most toured burn out house we’ve ever seen.”
Mark and his wife, Eva, have lived in an apartment about the Gardiner Angus Ranch Marketing Center since the fire, and are currently having a new house built.
“We didn’t do anything for a year,” Mark Gardiner said. “There were more important things -- like fences and getting the cattle back in place.”
The contractor, Goertzen Homes of Inman, was also working on homes for other families affected by the Starbuck Fire. Eva Gardiner has worked with Goertzen on a new home, and she and Mark will likely move in later this year.
Back to business
The Starbuck Fire hit on a Monday in 2017, and the following Wednesday, the Gardiners were working to rebuild the herd.
“That’s one of the things growing up that our parents, especially our dad, taught us -- what’s your plan, what’s your next step,” Mark Gardiner said.
He was helping a customer to sell 300 head of cattle and ended up buying the cattle for the ranch. They also acquired a recipient herd to artificially inseminate and keep their genetic line going.
Those cattle are six months behind where they’d normally be, but it softened the blow and allowed the herd to be rebuilt quickly.
The Gardiners got right back to work and continue two years after the fire. They have also continued the ranch’s internship program, which hosts interns in the fall and spring.
The current group, four women from three universities, were helping Spare with the bulls.
They also continue to preserve and spread the genetic line created by their father, Henry Gardiner in the 1970s. They’ll have their spring sale April 6.
In March 2017, the state of Kansas was gripped by extreme drought. When the fire started and the winds began to spread it, there was nothing to be done but get out of the way.
“Even last March, we hadn’t had any rain,” Garth Gardiner said. “It had been over one hundred days since the last bit of measurable precipitation.”
However, fall and winter of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 have been different. There has been much more moisture than the previous two years, which has put the Gardiner’s minds at ease.
“Because we’re wet right now, even with this wind, we’re not necessarily scared of any fire because of the moisture we’ve had,” Greg Gardiner said. “The snow farther to the west of us has laid a lot of that grass down that, back in 2017, was up just waiting to be burned.”
Greg Gardiner also believes that communities and fire crews are more prepared now as well.
“On March 5 of last year, we had a seismograph crew start a fire out here,” Gardiner said. “And because of the conditions and because there were no resources being used to fight fire throughout the whole state, when they called for mutual aid, they hit that thing with everything they’ve got.”
He said the rules had also been changed, allowing crews from Oklahoma to fly into Kansas to drop water onto fires. With the added support and preparedness, the 2018 fire was stopped.
“It burned 2,000 acres, but they got it stopped,” Greg Gardiner said. “And it was the same conditions as a year before in 2017, but the resources were too thin on that day.”