A farmer discs up ground near Satanta, KS on April 3, 2011. Photo by Kelvin Heitmann
A fire near my hometown threatened people, animals, farmground, structures and grassland this past Sunday. The town of 1200 was evacuated for safety reasons as the out of control grass fire approached.
Fire departments from nearby (up to 45 miles away) sent back up to assist our small town's volunteer emergency services. Another great example of volunteers came from local farmers who hooked up their tractors and began discing the ground close to town to turn the dry grass under and expose dirt that is less likely to burn.
Two cattle feeding lots, with capacities of over 126,000 head of cattle, were in danger during the fire, but were spared. Around 9,600 acres of ground including farm ground, pastures, CRP grasslands and golf course grasses were burnt. Three families lost their homes and thankfully no injuries have been reported.
The town of Satanta was very lucky considering the damage that could have been done from such a large fire that was so out of control. Many people have misconceptions about agricultural-related fires and I thought this would be a good time to bring those up!
In our part of the state, people DO NOT participate in elective burning of pasture ground. It is too dry and we can't afford to lose precious top soil to wind erosion. Many parts of Kansas do participate in such burning and that was talked about in this post. There are also some great photos and a description of pasture burning in the Flint Hills from a Kansas rancher, Debbie Lyons-Blythe, here! The exact cause of the fires that raged through Haskell County this past Sunday is unknown, but dry conditions and high wind speeds fueled it.The battle farmers and ranchers from the Satanta area will be fighting in the months to come is all of the open ground that was exposed during the fire. Without grass and crops covering a large area of ground, when the wind blows it will erode the soil and make conditions much worse. The biggest thing we need right now is rain and a whole lot of it! As many of you already know, you can rebuild structures and replace things, but you can't restore the precious top soil that will be lost.