HEMPHILL COUNTY, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Monday, marks the six-year anniversary of when at least 13 wildfires burned across the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, devasting communities along the way.
Those fires came at the end of a devastating string of wildfires that stretched around the High Plains from the end of February into March 2017.
The hardest hit communities would be Ochiltree, Lipscomb, and Hemphill Counties as the Perryton Fire burned across them, burning an estimated 318,056 acres.
“In a matter of a half a dozen hours, life here changed as we had known it to something we hadn’t gone through in many, many years, if at all to that severity,” said Andy Holloway with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Hemphill County.
The Perryton Fire was noted by the Forest Service to have only been surpassed by the Big Country Fire of 1988 and the East Amarillo Complex fire of 2006 in scale.
“It wasn’t just a fire. It was an inferno. It was so hot, we saw metal t-posts that were melted from the top down, I’ve been around a lot of fires my whole life, but I have never seen anything that hot and we saw a lot of strange things in that inferno of that fire caused,” said Holloway.
Altogether the fires on March 6 would burn more than 1.3 million acres and would kill 4 people, and about 4,000 livestock and the total damages were estimated to be around $25.1 million.
Holloway said a lot of the land lost has come back.
“A lot of that country came back, especially with a lot of weeds. I still have a lot of ranchers tell me they have a lot of weeds they didn’t have back before the fire, but I will say in some places that had a lot of brush and pasture problems, that fire ultimately cleaned a lot of that out and helped in some of those cases. But I would say we are still recovering,” said Holloway.
Holloway said the community is still healing six years later.
“We are still recovering. It’s much better than the war zone look we had the day after the fire but it is still one of those things that takes a decade or more to fully get over,” said Holloway.
But Holloway added the community is tough and they don’t give up that easily.
“My dad used to say, ‘its attitude dammit, attitude.’ and these ranchers have got a good attitude, Jack and they are not quitters. They are strong and they have faced many challenges of all different kinds over the many years that they and their families have been in business and they are not going to quit,” said Holloway.
Holloway said most of the ranchers that were burned out and affected are back engaged in ranching and he said he doesn’t know of any ranchers that were forced out due to the fires.
“I would say a lot of that was largely due to the outpouring of help they got, not only from these gracious people across the country but also our federal government helped to rebuild fences and did indemnity things for our cattle that had deceased. All kinds of different things the ranchers were able to get,” said Holloway.
Holloway added that lessons were learned from the 2017 fire in addressing preparedness.
“For example, instead of trying to herd cows from one pasture to the next, which often time takes a lot of time, and then if you have a baby calf that’s slow, the best thing to do is open the gate so that the cows can find the gates go from one pasture to the next to try and get into a place of safety on their own… the main thing we can do have an awareness that we are always under this type of threat and mow areas around your homestead or have a sprinkler system running around your home. Have the low-laying brush that might be around some of your trees and ornamental brush plants around your home cleaned up and cleaned out,” said Holloway.
Holloway advised farmers and ranchers to use the resources of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
As we are coming off of this six-year anniversary, Chief Meteorologist John Harris said through the rest of March, we will be looking at a dry month and that March is a bad month for wildfires.
He said the best thing you can do is be ready on those red flag warning days.