Burnet County ranchers help peers devastated by Eastland Complex fires
Burnet County ranchers and others are reaching out to those affected by the Eastland Complex wildfire with donations of hay, feed, fencing, and other livestock needs as the blaze continues. Already the largest wildfire in Texas history, the Eastland Complex has destroyed 54,513 acres. It formed Thursday, March 17, when several smaller fires converged. As of 10:30 a.m. Friday, March 25, it was 80 percent contained.
The Eastland Complex wildfire includes the Kidd Fire, Wheat Field Fire, Oak Mott Fire, and Walling Fire, all in the Eastland County area, a little over two hours north of the Burnet County Courthouse. Surrounding communities affected include Rising Star, Cross Plains, Gorman, Cisco, Carbon, and Eastland.
The risk of new fires remains, especially to the west of U.S. 281, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. As the Forest Service and fire departments from across the state fight to stop the spread, Highland Lakes ranchers and their friends are mobilizing aid to the area.
“Everybody we know is helping,” said Melissa Glaspy, a rancher in Burnet who works for Dan McBride, a large animal veterinarian in Burnet County. “The outpouring has been tremendous. It’s just amazing.”
McBride loaded up Melissa and her husband, Clay, with medication to prevent inhalation pneumonia in livestock. They immediately drove to Shelby and Wil Hogan’s ranch in Carbon and started administering the drugs. Hogan didn’t even know about it until it was over.
“We have some friends in Burnet, and they did one of the most amazing things,” Hogan told DailyTrib.com. “They took every cattle we own, and they ran them through the shoot and doctored them. I didn’t even know what they were doing.”
Hogan, nephew of Kathy Kincaid Nobles, a native of Eastland County who has lived in the Marble Falls area since the 1970s, lost 1,200 bales of hay and all of his hay fields. He was able to save his livestock, barns, and home by plowing a fire break around the structures.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” he said. “I plowed until 2:30 in the morning. Firefighters kept the fire off the house. They went from house to house to protect them.”
Ranchers from Richland Springs formed the Ranchers Navy, much like the Cajun Navy that organized boat rescues in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Using social media and Google Docs, the group is coordinating donation pickups, drop-offs, and distribution, Hogan said.
“If someone in Caldwell says I have 100 bales but no way to transport, they input what’s needed and a trucker sees it’s on his route and he can stop and deliver it,” Hogan said. “They have really streamlined the process and allowed us to focus on the local level. I make one phone call, and whatever it is gets done.”
Nobles also has been instrumental in getting the word out.
“The fire burned out ranch land as it moved,” Nobles said. “It burned down people’s livelihood. My nephew’s whole pasture burned down to bare sand. I know firefighters are still working on the fire. It started with about four different fires that popped up and just morphed into this gigantic, evil beast.”
The negative effects of the fire stretch far beyond the Eastland County boundaries.
“It’s also about the people who used to get their hay from someone like Brad Stacy in Carbon, but his hay was burned up,” Hogan said. “He lost his hay and his customers’ hay. It’s a snowball effect. It reaches a lot of people.”
The goal is to return things to normal, which could take up to five years, according to Hogan’s estimation. Right now, he remains focused on immediate needs and how farmers and ranchers are going to survive this growing season.
“We are going to build everyone’s hay back up to what it was before 2 p.m. on (March 17) before the fire took everything they had,” he said. “These (donations) have to carry us to May or June, and if we don’t get enough rain this spring, further than that. All the dry forage is gone. Cows can’t eat that black stuff.”
“It’s been a devastating experience,” Glaspy said. She and her husband plan a trip to Carbon next week to help with boots-on-the-ground labor. “The people have nothing. The farmers have nothing. And the people who aren’t farmers and ranchers, a lot of their jobs burned down. It’s almost like, where do you start?”
To donate goods, visit the Central Texas Fire Relief-Farm and Ranch Facebook page. The biggest needs are hay, protein tubs, minerals, fencing supplies, and feed. A list of drop-off locations can be found here.
Donations of money can be sent to @jhminicattle on Venmo.