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Kansas Farmers Facing Significant Loss Due To Wildfire

Forestry officials report the wildfire in southern Kansas is now 95 percent contained, and crews will continue to patrol and monitor the fire line, looking for hot spots.

Farmers and ranchers in Barber County are starting to assess the extensive damage to their land, livelihood and the community.

Fire officials say the Anderson Creek Wildfire might be the largest wildfire in Kanas history. It certainly is the largest natural disaster to hit a ranch in rural Barber County, a cattle ranch that’s been in Gimmie Jo Jansonius' family for more than 100 years.

"It’s really interesting to have that conversation with Grandpa, like, 'Hey, have you ever seen anything like this before?'" Jansonius says. "And he just shakes his head and says, 'No, I’ve never seen anything like this before in my lifetime.'”

Gimmie Jo Jansonius is a sixth-generation farmer.
Credit Kansas Farm Bureau
Gimmie Jo Jansonius is a sixth-generation farmer.

Jansonius is a sixth-generation farmer who grew up on this 12,000-acre ranch southwest of Medicine Lodge near the Oklahoma border. She’s a high school teacher and she runs a farm in northwest Kansas--a life she put on hold to come back and help her parents.

Four generations of her family are working day and night to get a handle on the damage that came when the wildfire swept through their land.

"There is no precedent for how to deal with this. There is no precedent for what programs might be available or what assistance might be available because we never have seen anything of this magnitude that is a result of a wildfire in our area," Jansonius says.

Her family’s ranch lost up to 90 percent of its pastures and more than 300 miles of fence. The work now is securing the perimeter and seeing what needs to be replaced immediately--and caring for the 500 to 700 cows that used to roam the pastures.

"Those cattle are now home or in a different location, and they have to be hand fed every day," Jansonius says. "And we’ve had to haul a lot of water as well to make sure our stock is cared for, and that’s additional chores on top of the recovery efforts and what we’re trying to do to clean up fence line and assess what we need to do."

This family--like other ranchers in Barber County--are getting help from farmers across the state. Trucks full of hay bales rolled into this county while fire crews were still in the fields trying to contain the wildfire.

"It’s real sacrifice on behalf of the people who are sharing with us," Jansonius says. "They’re not sending their junk. They’re sending their very best, and that is so humbling that people are that kind and that compassionate in a situation that is a crisis."

Scenes from Jansonius' family farm in Barber County:

The wildfire took its biggest toll on Barber County, scorching close to 300,000 acres and destroying 12 homes and numerous outbuildings. The fire took out miles of fence and an unknown number of livestock.

The Kansas Farm Bureau is helping to coordinate fire relief efforts with farm, ranch and industry groups. There will be disaster assistance through these groups and the state, but ultimately, it’s the land owners who will be responsible for the cost of recovery.

"When you look at the cost of building a mile of fence to be approximately $10,000 and you take that $10,000 times 300 miles, that’s a significant impact to your bottom line," Jansonius says.

And that’s just one family and one ranch. The most recent Census of Agriculture data shows there were 378 farms in Barber County in 2012. The economic impact from the wildfire might not be fully realized for months or years down the road.

"We just have to hope that commodity prices [like] grain and cattle stay strong or grow strong because it could be a big difference, monetarily speaking, for many producers out in this area," she says. "The economic impact of this wildfire on the bottom line is going to be significant.

Jansonius says many of the neighbors and friends she grew up with in Barber County have returned to help their parents or relatives during this crisis. Support aids the healing here. She will return to her high school teaching job soon and knows with a little rain, those burned pastures will grow back better than ever.

"Yes, it’s a little bleak right now," Jansonius says, "but if we look ahead six months, a year, two years or three years down the road, it really might be a blessing in disguise for our land and our people."

-- Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

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