Anderson Creek Fire suppression costs total $1.5 million

By Amy Bickel
Hutchinson News – February 10, 2017

Photo by Jason Hartman. Click on photo to view full-size.

Photo by Jason Hartman. Click on photo to view full-size.

It cost Barber County about $1.5 million to fight the Anderson Creek Fire.

That figure represents suppression costs, such as fuel, repairs, food, ice and water, said Jerry McNamar, the county’s emergency management director. About $400,000 of the cost was for four National Guard helicopters, which dropped water on the fire over two days.

“That’s the total cost of putting the fire out,” he said.

Wages are a very small part of the total. Moreover, Barber County’s fire crews are all volunteer. Each volunteer firefighter in Barber County gets $15 a run.

McNamar gave the totals of the March 2016 wildfire to ranchers at a recent prescribed-burning meeting. He also said, from his figures gathered from ranchers, 750 to 800 cattle died in the blaze. At least 2,700 miles of fence – worth $27 million – were destroyed.

A mile of fence costs an average $10,000 to build.

McNamar said this is just what he knows about – and the numbers are only for Barber County. Total losses might be higher.

A year ago, the Gyp Hills prairie was singed down to the bare earth. Nearly 400,000 acres burned in the Anderson Creek Fire, which started in late March near the Anderson Creek in Woods County, Oklahoma, before moving into Comanche and Barber counties in Kansas.

About 230 firefighters each day were on the fire lines – 14,000 man hours in all, McNamar said.

“You can see how big this was,” he said, adding, “It will take a long time to recover the economic losses, but the community is resilient.”

He added that the county put in for federal assistance from FEMA to aid in the $1.5 million bill in July. They haven’t heard whether they will receive any funding. For now, the county’s taxpayers will bear the costs of suppression.

“I’m optimistic it is going to happen,” McNamar said, adding FEMA would pay 75 percent of the total.

According to the Kansas Forest Service, the Anderson Creek Fire was the largest wildfire in the state’s history. And across Kansas, there was an outpouring from folks who wanted to lend southern Kansas ranchers a hand.

More than 184 organizations volunteered during the fire, including fire departments, said Ross Hauck, fire management coordinator with the forest service. He added that included churches and schools where officials provided shelter and other resources. The Red Cross was also present.

Hauck said 73 Kansas counties sent at least one resource to the region.

“We actually had one department come from Brown or Atchison county,” said Hauck of the distance some traveled to fight the fire.

At one time, more than 954 people were on the scene, representing five states.

While some fought fires, others brought supplies and raised cash to help ranchers. Loads of hay were taken to ranches to help supplemental feed after the fire. Kansans also donated barbed wire, fence posts and cattle minerals. Cattle were sold at progressive auctions, with the funds going to the wildfire efforts.

In all, residents donated more than $528,359 to the Kansas Livestock Foundation for wildfire relief, said Todd Domer, with the Kansas Livestock Association.

People have been generous, said McNamar. He said much of the help to fight the fire involved volunteers – including the firefighters.

“The majority were volunteer fire departments – just like us that came from every little town in Kansas,” he said. “They were volunteer firemen, they were the small-town farmers and ranchers working small-town fire departments, just like us.

“They showed up to help – no matter if they thought they were going to get reimbursement,” he said. “No one went away thinking they weren’t appreciated. This community just gave everything they needed to make them feel welcome.”

It’s the Kansas way, he said.

“That’s the heart of the situation right there,” he said. “That is what makes it work out here.”

The fire acreage previously contained 6 percent cedar trees – an invasive species that ranchers, through cutting and prescribed burning, have been working to control. The fire burned hot and was beneficial in helping kill the cedars. McNamar wasn’t sure what the tree density was after the fire.

The reduction in the fuel load helped, but McNamar said another wildfire could happen.

“There is no guarantees,” he said. “We aren’t out of the woods, by any means. You just pray you don’t have the drought, the heat and the wind.”

 

Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
http://www.ksffa.com
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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