Small, mighty northeastern Colorado town rallies after wildfires tear through area
Firemen alongside farmers and ranchers fought to save their small but mighty community of Haxtun, Colo., March 6. As volunteer and career firemen from all around fought the blaze head-on, community members raced ahead. Some pulling stock trailers to get livestock out of the way, others with tractors and disks to plow up potential tinder in the fields.
Terry Fankhauser, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association executive vice president, described the efforts of this community as a well-oiled machine, both while the flames raged over the land and once they were contained.
“It should have been mass chaos but it seemed to be really well-coordinated,” Fankhauser said. “It’s because those folks out there knew each other, knew the land and they were the best people to deal with this situation.”
Around noon, the smoke and dust from the fire was visible north of town and the community raced into action. The volunteer fire department had already been called out but many others were helping neighbors clear out their houses and move livestock to safety.
A mere 8 miles west of Koberstein Farms Angus, the fire was finally stopped. A short distance to go with winds carrying the flames so quickly.
“They were fortunate to have wheat growing in the path of the fire,” said Krystle Koberstein, co-owner and operator of Koberstein Farms Angus. “A lot of farmers had made it to that area to start disking and made a fire line so it could be managed and eventually contained.”
The fire was fully contained on Wednesday afternoon, after burning more 32,000 acres of land, completely destroying four homes and many more out buildings along with claiming more than 200 head of cattle.
“These (cattle) losses might not seem significant across the industry,” Fankhauser said. “But it’s very significant to those who experienced those losses. Not a lot of producers were hit by the fire but those who were, lost a lot.”
The Koberstein Farms Angus operation was spared despite the proximity to the path of the fire. This allowed the family to help those who were not as fortunate, they started almost immediately.
“One of our friends have two small children and they lost their whole house,” Koberstein said. “When we got home, our kids went through their drawers and pulled out clothes to donate. That’s just what you do in a small town.”
Along with the rest of the community, the Koberstein family did a lot more than donate clothing. At their Angus sale, lot 75 sold for $7,000 and all the proceeds were donated to the fire relief fund along with an additional $1,000 donation.
“If you’re a farmer or rancher you do what you can to help when someone is in need,” Koberstein said. “Even if you’re not in the best financial situation, it’s just something you do.”
At the annual Wiggins FFA hired hand auction, a hog was donated by TGS Welding, LLC. The hog sold a total of eight times, raising more than $3,000 for the fire relief fund.
“The whole community has really rallied behind everyone and all that has happened here,” Koberstein said. “We have random donations coming in from Amazon and people bringing hay, feed and oats to plant. It has been cool to see.”
Donations are coming from near and far to help the Haxtun community. One thousand bales of wheat are sitting in Missouri ready to make their way to the small community while hay from Chappell, Neb., is already on its way.
“We are always amazed at how the agricultural community pulls together and takes care of each other,” Fankhauser said. “It is one thing you are never going to have to worry about, it is always going to happen.”
DONATIONS POUR IN
The Haxtun High School girls basketball team traveled to the state tournament only days after the flames started and were extinguished.
“The fire trucks still smelled like smoke as they escorted the team out of town that Thursday,” Koberstein said. “A small town with a big heart, that’s our motto and I think that rings true.”
During the 1A and 2A Colorado State Basketball tournament, buckets were passed around to collect donations for the fire relief fund.
“In times of political strife, where everyone is talking about how divided the country can be, it is heartwarming to see those involved in agriculture and those who are not pull together when disaster strikes,” Fankhauser said. “There has been a tremendous outpouring of contributions and willingness to help from all over.”
Not only are the donated resources helping this community, but also the amount of time and manpower volunteered from the start of the flames until the last t-post is driven into the ground, Fankhauser added.
“What people will remember from this is the support they received from neighbors and people across the country,” Fankhauser said. “I guarantee the next time a disaster strikes the agricultural industry; I am guessing these people mobilize to pay it forward.”
On behalf of the northeastern Colorado cattle ranchers, Fankhauser said they are grateful for the support, donations and offers of assistance received from people near and far.
For more information about how you can help this community recover please visit the Haxtun Community Fire Relief Facebook page, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Facebook page or http://www.beefusa.org. ❖
— King is a freelance writer from Oakland, Neb., who is agraduate student at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org