Windmill country: panhandle wildfire takes lives, more

Windmill country: panhandle wildfire takes lives, more

19 March 2017

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USA — SAN ANGELO — The recent Texas Panhandle wildfires are the worst in 11 years. They have claimed the lives of four people, including Cody Crockett, Sydney Wallace and Sloan Everett, who died trying to save their cattle.

Early assessment of material losses total more than $21 million and could go even higher, said Steve Amosson, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension economist in Amarillo. The basic categories considered are: lost pasture, $6.1 million; fence repair or replacement, $6.1 million; buildings and corrals lost $3.8 million; livestock death losses (2,500 cattle) $4 million; and emergency hay and feed, $1 million.

No estimates are available on the loss of wildlife.

The 2006 Panhandle complex fire, considered the largest wildfire ever in the state, burned 907,245 acres, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

“Due to increased costs and cattle prices, the total damage of the 2017 wildfire would be about 70 percent of the 2006 fire,” Amosson said.

“When we value the deaths of cattle at market value, including disposal costs, we’re talking about $3.6 million at this point, and I expect that to go up,” he said. “We’re still dealing with chaos. They’re still trying to find cattle.”

“Every individual rancher will weather these losses differently, depending on what their financial position was at the time of the fire,” Amosson said. “If they had large losses and already had a marginal financial position then it could put them out of business, but in most cases it will just create more financial stress for them, and they will keep ranching.”

The fire destroyed the home of John R. Erickson, author of the “Hank the Cowdog” books. He and his wife, Kris, escaped the fire, but their M-Cross Ranch home near Perryton in Lipscomb County burned to the ground, according to news sources.

The author’s son Mark Erickson said his parents are staying with him at Perryton.

“They were doing well, thanks to their sturdy, optimistic nature and their ‘unsinkable’ senses of humor,” Mark said. “I think my dad is most sad over the loss of his book collection and his letter correspondences with John Graves, Herman Wouk and Elmer Kelton.”

Besides their home, the Ericksons lost most of the buildings and 90 percent of the pasture grass.

Amosson said it will cost around $6.1 million to recover about 480,000 acres of pastures burned across the Panhandle, which has to be set aside for the rest of 2017.

“Basically, ranchers will not be able to graze these pastures this year and will only be able to stock them at half capacity next year while they recover,” he said.

Also, an estimated 975 miles of fence was affected. “We are assuming that half will be repaired at a cost of $2,500 per mile, and the other half will have to be replaced at a cost of $10,000 per mile,” Amosson said.

The agriculture community has come to the aid of ranchers. It has been overwhelming, a colleague told me.

Hay donations from near and far have come by the truckloads. Lanny Denman of Bronte donated 50 bales of coastal hay, and Palmer Feed and Supply in San Angelo sent 21 tons of supplemental feed.

At the Decatur Livestock Market in Wise County last week, $57,201 was raised when calves were sold in addition to baked goods, vacations, a cowboy hat and various farm supplies and donated to wildfire victims.

“It’s born with a spark, often accidental and feeds on grasses dried by wind. It’s a wildfire — a destroyer of life and property that often cannot be outrun or outflanked. It’s a monster. Ravenous, aggressive and deadly,” writes Gary Joiner, with Waco-based Texas Farm Bureau.

Joiner said Texas Farm Bureau has organized a fund for tax-deductible contributions. Visit for more information on the fund and a list of other ways to help those in need.

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