Features Livestock News

From hay to fencing to manpower, heroes step up to help wildfire victims

Published:

Dan Firme doesn’t own a cape. Even if he did, the northeastern Colorado winds would whip it around and make farming and ranching even more challenging than it is already.

Firme, a Haxtun rancher, fire victim, volunteer firefighter, and family man would never admit to any heroic acts, but those he has helped and those he has worked shoulder to shoulder with disagree. Firme is President of the Northeastern Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, and he took a call from the immediate past president of the organization, Kent Kokes, after the fire. Kokes, also a volunteer firefighter who was on scene and knew the extent of the hay losses, was calling to support Firme in gathering donations of hay to allow affected ranchers to feed their cattle. At the time, he didn’t realize Firme had lost every bale he had.

The fire, Firme said, is a double-edged sword. In his leadership position, he’s trying to keep the ball rolling in terms of procuring hay for his neighbors and fellow producers all the while gathering hay for his own operation.

While he operated a loader, spreading the still smoldering hay stacks, Firme spent endless hours on his phone, orchestrating hay donations for the area. It was, quite literally, in with the old and in with the new as he has overseen the receipt of donated hay from all over the country. The hay at his farm headquarters continued to smolder for a week and had to finally be pushed into a pit to be fully extinguished.

The donations have come in all shapes and sizes, and Firme roughly estimates them at around 30 tractor-trailer loads. Other smaller donations have also rolled into the community.

“I got a call from a student at Dakota Ridge High School from a kid who wanted to bring me some hay,” Firme said. “He only had a pickup, but he found a trailer and brought two big square bales of hay up here from Parker.”

All of the donations matter, and it’s important to understand, Firme said, that the need is going to be long term. With so many pasture acres destroyed, producers will be forced to feed hay through the summer and into next fall and winter. The only other option is to liquidate herds, and Firme is fighting so his neighbors aren’t forced to sell.

“We’re looking at the long term, and we’re not turning away hay,” he said. The coordination of trucking outside their usual radius in which they do business has proven to be a challenge.

While he continues to rebuild, Firme is also calving cows, further dividing his time.

Farmers with discs were instrumental in fighting the fires in the Haxtun, Colorado, area. (Image courtesy of Julie Kokes)

***

Jeff Plumb, the Haxtun FFA Advisor and agriculture teacher, has spent time not only helping his community but also guiding students in giving back and helping. The FFA Chapter used funds from their Community Pride fund to purchase snow fence. Plumb and his agriculture students have built fences in the region.

“We put it up around people’s houses that are right there around the burn area,” he said. “We hope it’s doing its job.”

Plumb received a call one evening that a truckload of small bales was nearly to town and the driver needed help unloading. Plumb and a handful of students met him and unloaded over 500 small square bales by hand so they can be used by the ranchers who lost all of their hay and pasture.

In the neighboring town of Wiggins, the FFA Chapter under the advisement of Rockie Ernst, added a special lot to their Annual Hired Hand Auction. The chapter had recently received a donation of a hog from local TGS Welding owner Tom Sears and accompanying processing from Your Choice Meats in Wiggins.

“The chapter unanimously decided to donate because it’s a great cause,” said Roxanne Bashor, Chapter president. “We have a deep passion for agriculture, and this was a chance to come together for a cause that is dear to us and to our community.”

Many of the Wiggins FFA members are also student-athletes. It was only a few weeks ago that the basketball teams from Wiggins and Haxtun met on Haxtun’s road to the state tournament. Haxtun beat the Tigers soundly on the court. The students of the small schools in the northeastern corner of Colorado compete against one another in sports, 4-H, FFA competitions, and other events but didn’t hesitate to come to the aid of their neighboring community.

The hog and the processing was sold and purchased by Teague Family Farms of Wiggins. Tucker Teague, a Wiggins FFA alumni who is a freshman at Texas A&M, stood with his hat in his hand and donated the hog back for Miller to sell again.

The hog and processing was then sold seven more times, garnering a total of $3650.

“That’s one heck of a pig,” Miller said, after another buyer motioned for him to sell the hog again.

Image courtesy of Andy Holloway

***

Julie Kokes listened to the stories of damage when her husband and sons, all volunteer firefighters, returned from fighting it. They had a restless night worrying about the ranchers who had lost cattle and those who had lost hay and grass.

In the coming hours, Kokes launched a Facebook page, NE Colorado Immediate Fire Relief for Farmers & Ranchers, and the calls and messages began to pour in. A week after the fire, the page remains busy and has had over 10,000 interactions from people poised to help.

We had firefighters from the metro Denver area, she said, and they were in town for a break and inquired who the young girls were fetching water and running the eye wash station for those on the front lines. Kokes explained the girls were on the basketball team and should be preparing for their state title bid but were there helping instead.

Another neighbor, well known for her immaculate yard, had huge losses on their ranch but her husband was able to save their home by discing swaths around it. The home was saved but the yard was damaged.

“We had a young man from Castle Rock call us and offer his landscaping services,” she said. She knew immediately who to put him in contact with. A repaired yard this spring may seem small to some given the scope of the damage, but to this ranch wife, it will be priceless.

Now that the flames are gone in Colorado, the wind has taken a toll on the landscape, blowing drifts of sand reminiscent of the desert.

“For people outside of agriculture, it’s hard to see where the fire was out in pastures,” Kokes explained. The burn area “is so wide in places that all the landscape looks the same. The ripples of sand have covered or blown away any evidence of burn. There’s not a cactus, not a yucca.”

Now, the major needs are manure to spread, oat seed for cover crop, and rain. The donations have continued to roll in and volunteers have spent hours on cellphones coordinating trucking and donations. Kokes said many agriculture-based businesses and organizations have made tremendous donations of time and treasure. Equally as heart-warming, one donation to the Colorado Farm Bureau’s Disaster Relief Fund totaled $5 and was accompanied with a note from the donor explaining he donated the entire amount in his piggie bank.

“People are going to do something in a disaster because they love you and they care about you,” she said. “Sometimes they don’t know you and they’re going to do something because they love and care about you. That’s what we do out here.”

Image courtesy of Check-Mark Precision Ag and Aerial Crop Inspection
The hay losses in the Haxtun fires are severe. Given the significant losses of pasture, area ranchers will need enough hay to feed through the summer and longer. (Image courtesy of Julie Kokes)
Image courtesy of Andy Holloway

 

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of AGDAILY. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.