Paradise Strong: The next steps to help victims of Kansas fires
While the ranchers who were affected by the Dec. 15 fires that roared through four counties in Kansas are still far from recovered, help has been arriving by the truckload. Bare dirt has replaced the grass the cattle would have wintered on. One biologist who toured the area after the fires said it looked like the surface of the moon.
Amanda Raithel is a member of the Paradise Strong fundraising committee that hosted an online benefit auction last week. Now that the incredibly successful benefit has been tallied, the committee is poring through information from each of the ranch families that suffered losses to quickly pay funds to them based on their losses.
Volunteer labor, Raithel said, is much needed in addition to fencing supplies.
Jeremy Schmeidler grew up in the area and had a number of game cameras on his family’s ranch north of Hays. A Browning Trail Cam, though mostly melted, captured temperature readings and photos that illustrated the heat and speed of the fires. The first reading at 5:15 p.m. was 62 degrees, a reading at 5:16 p.m. of 91, a reading at 5:17 p.m. of 136, a reading at 5:18 p.m. of 156, and a reading at 5:19 p.m. of 163 degrees. He said his dad’s ranch headquarters are located just north of one of the fires and were spared, though the damage in the area is extensive.
To help relieve some of the losses, the Farm Service Agency has a number of programs. Stacey Stump, a program technician in the Great Bend (Kansas) FSA office said local FSA offices can be a first stop for ag producers who have experienced losses.
The Livestock Indemnity Program can help pay for livestock losses, especially if a producer has good records in hand. Stump appeared on the Genuine JBH podcast with J Bradley Hook and said cataloging livestock losses is vital prior to burying the carcasses. Even though the ear tags were melted on many of the dead cattle, photographing and providing any sort of identifying information is necessary, be it a hot brand or even a Bangs vaccination clip number. Stump said cattle losses are classified by weight so maintaining a count of mature cows, feeder calves, calf at side, etc., will be helpful for the program.
FSA also offers an Emergency Livestock Assistance Program that can assist with feed losses. Stump recommends documenting feed amounts and types and locations of feed. She also said contacting the local FSA office in the county where the loss occurred within 30 days. Hook, who was previously an insurance adjuster, agreed and said a video of feed piles, haystacks, and home and barn contents can be helpful.
Stephanie Dickerson said the biggest lesson she has learned about insurance as a result of their losses is the need for an addendum to their homeowners policy just for the firearms and ammunition in the home. She said the addendum would have required a statement of purchase prices from a gunsmith or firearms dealer and a complete list of contents.
The Dickersons lost all of their vehicles and she said locating vehicles to replace them has been difficult, though she said having a good insurance company has been helpful.
Hay donations, she said, have continued to roll in and much of it was rerouted to the area of the state where the cattle are currently located, saving on trucking costs. They have had numerous FFA chapters come to the ranch to roll up miles of burned barbed wire. Finding barbed wire and T posts has been next to impossible, especially to rebuild to the specifications required for reimbursement through the available programs.
One of the most challenging jobs for Dickerson was recreating cattle records. Ironically, her computer crashed in November, and the repairman pulled all of the data off the hard drive, made a copy, and she was in the process of copying it to a laptop. The laptop burned in the fire, but the repairman called on Christmas Eve to tell her that he still had the copy if it would be helpful. She said this was tremendously helpful, though all of the breeding records for fall calving were lost and all inventories had to be redone by hand.
Her piece of advice is to go to the insurance office annually to ensure that the lists of vehicles are correct, and the values are up to date.
“Don’t push off your annual exam at your doctor’s and don’t push off your annual meeting with your insurance office,” she said.
Additional ways to donate:
The Logan County Cattlewomen are donating the proceeds from sales of their T-shirts through the month of January to Kansas ranchers. The Let’s Go Brandin’ shirts feature Logan County brands and are available in kid’s sizes, adult tees, long sleeve tees, crewneck sweatshirts and hoodies. To order, text or call Britty Pratt at )970) 580-1861 and follow the Logan County Cattlewomen’s Association on Facebook.
Also in Logan County, the crew at Sterling Livestock Commission is gathering donations of fencing supplies and cash to transport to the ranchers affected. Jason Santomaso said they will also be hosting a roll over auction during their stock show sale on Wednesday, Jan. 12. For more information or to donate, call Jason Santomaso at (970) 520-3049.
Monetary donations can also be sent to Amanda Raithel, Paradise Strong, 1224 E. 19th St., Falls City, NE 68355.
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