Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March Madness

     Slightly over two weeks out from the disastrous Starbuck Wildfire sees the land sprouting back to life. The worst wildfire in Kansas recorded history scorched nearly 670,000 acres of Clark and Comanche county's finest ranch lands. Thousands of head of livestock, thousands of miles of fencing, homes, outbuildings, wildlife and human lives were lost in Oklahoma and Kansas. Some ranches may not recover. Yes, it is bad. But the green hope is sprouting from the ashes. I'll attempt to help convey that sense--a sense of hope, responding, rebuilding, replacing, recovering. The land has done this for eons. It's our challenge to see if our rural society can duplicate nature's tendency. There is little doubt in the Red Hills that the rural community will!
     The Ashland Cemetery overlooks a meadow of green hope springing up after the March lion blazed through this region on the 6th day of the month.

A parched land has suffered from lack of rain in the Red Hills then receives further insult
from this wildfire. Nature considers it natural. The human residents see it a bit differently.

Momma with a newborn calf awaits a hay delivery in a barren landscape.

American currant blooms provide assurances that spring is indeed here in spite of a stark, burned background.

New grass in a road ditch keeps uneasy company with encroaching sand from the neighboring field.
Wind is a huge worry while everyone and everything awaits some rain to stimulate regrowth
and protection from erosion.

The only thing more welcome than rain is green, and the red soil of the Red Hills complements it quite well.

This fire wind was so intense, it was able to jump Clark State Fishing Lake. 

Lizard tracks in wind-blown sand impart an optimism of nature
or rather a simple reality that life goes on.

The sand reveals some feathered friends who have survived the inferno--
Ring-necked pheasants in this case.  
Unfortunately, a fire like this denudes the land and exposes fragile soils
to wind erosion which can fill roadside ditches. A little rain would go a long ways right now!

The resiliency of the grassland is embodied in the new green shoots of yucca.
Some think the land is always beautiful, in any stage of year, weather, and recovery.

     Yes, March Madness has a certain meaning to most of us. But this year's madness in the Red Hills brought about a fiery lion bent on destruction. It accomplished its goal. Now the land, the wildlife, and the people are in a recovery mode. While March may leave like a lamb, hope is for a water-logged one that lingers for a few days and gives the land its desperately needed lifeblood.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Out of the Ashes

       This will not be a post of showy prairie and wildlife pictures with typical flowery accounts of amazing Red Hills attributes. In deference to the major recent disastrous wildfire, I feel compelled to offer some description and photo interpretation even as shock and grief still permeate the air as thick as the smoky haze still blanketing the land. With apologies to those whose nerves and emotions are yet frail, I think it important for people unaffected or unaware of this disaster to gain perspective of its magnitude on the life and lives of the Red Hills. 
        Recovery has started from what represents the largest wildfire in Kansas history, eclipsing the numbers of the huge Anderson Creek Wildfire from last March. This one was worse in ways beyond just size. Nearly 670,000 acres of prairie along with homes, shelterbelts, fences and other structures burned in the Starbuck Fire which started in Oklahoma and charred most of Clark County and a good portion of western Comanche County in Kansas. Two other concurrent but separate fires brought total affected acres to over 830,000. Sadly, the worst losses were in human lives in Oklahoma and in Kansas. This fact alone made this fire so much worse than last year's.This portrayal is in black and white to impart the somber reality of the disaster. There will be recovery of the land and its people which will receive the appropriate rejoicing when the time comes. If we are patient and enjoy the good graces of some timely precipitation and the incredible help from so many sources, nature and the land's people will recover. Current grief and fear of the future are being replaced by generosity and support of so many others wishing to help--help appreciated in so many ways.

This iconic store of Englewood still stands, guarding the intersection of tragedy, heroism, loss, and hope.
 Several families lost their homes here.
This land is fragile. The naked sandy soils will be very vulnerable to wind erosion.
Hope is for precipitation soon to help regrowth of the prairie and retaining the precious topsoil.
Ranchers are busily repairing and replacing thousands of miles of fence.
Gracious donations and government programs are helping immensely but it's going to take a long time!

With humidity levels in single digits and winds exceeding 50mph at times, everything in the blaze's path including shelterbelts were as vulnerable as the dry, dormant grasslands.

Sadly, many homes including new and old were burned to the ground.

The somber mood of the Englewood Cemetery evokes a sad time accurately.

Poor livestock caught in the inferno had little chance.
Hundreds of head of cattle were lost; some ranchers
lost their entire herds.

Some survivors were in such bad shape, the only
humane thing to do was put them down...quickly
if possible!
Wildlife such as this Bobwhite also suffered although this bird
was found days later from seemingly other unknown causes
but likely related to the fire. Residents report seeing pheasants,
deer, turkey and other wildlife lucky to have escaped the inferno.

One of several homes destroyed in Englewood. What if it was yours?

Ashland was spared through heroic efforts of firefighters.
The saloon survives for another round.

A small yucca offers yet some remaining green in the landscape.
A week later, a sheen of green can be seen from grasses
persisting on deeper soil moisture from earlier rains.
The flow of the Cimarron River is indifferent to the recent catastrophic
events on the landscape. The flow represents the resilient spirit of the people
and the wildlife of this beautiful country--and it will be beautiful again!

To help you can assist any landowners you may know who need help with various recovery efforts. A good place to donate is:
Ashland Community Foundation where contributions will go towards those who most need assistance in many forms. Go to: to find out how to donate.