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Farmers, ranchers, equipment dealers, agronomists, firefighters and other community members offer help after northeast Colorado fire.

Tyler Harris 1, Editor

April 5, 2017

6 Min Read
COMMUNITY EFFORT: The fire in northeast Colorado in early March burned over 32,000 acres and claimed 200 head of cattle. Fighting the fire was a community effort.Brian Biesemeier

Over the past month, semi-loads of hay and fencing supplies have made their way from Michigan, Ohio and even as far as New York to donate to producers in northeast Colorado.

Earlier this year, over 32,000 acres were burned and 200 head of cattle were lost in a wildfire in northeast Colorado. The fire, roughly 4 miles wide and 23 miles long, spread down the county line between Logan County to the west, and Sedgewick and Phillips counties to the east.

"It's all rangeland right there. It burned across a section of ground that is marginal, and a lot of it has been in CRP 20 to 25 years. You have these grasslands that have been dry for 10 years. Now it's just laying as fuel for the fire," says Jeff Plumb, adviser at the Haxtun FFA Chapter. "When it hit, it hit fast."

"This is the first fire of this magnitude that we've seen. The tall CRP grass was just igniting and jumping. We had six sections of grass that were burned up." says Brandon Biesemeier, who farms in the area. "Now, it's almost like a blizzard on county roads. There are sand drifts similar to snow."

Dan Firme, current president of the Northeast Colorado Cattlemen's Association and a Haxtun volunteer firefighter, was on the first truck at the scene. "When the whistle went off, I called my wife and said 'I've got to go,'" says Firme, who farms with his dad and brother, and lost five calves, a section of grass and 565 tons of hay in the fire. "There were probably 10 local fire departments battling the blaze that day. They came from as far as away as 70 miles, and were helping fight the fire. They brought in multiple response teams from our Front Range communities in the Denver area."

Rural America comes together
Firme notes fighting the fire was truly a community effort. This includes EMTs and other members of the community providing water and food for firefighters battling the blaze.

"There were all sorts of people helping, including our state-bound high school girls' basketball team. They were set to go to the state tournament at the end of week and were right alongside EMTs getting our eyes cleaned and making sure we had snacks," Firme says. "There were about 20 farmers with disks trying to disk in front of that fire to create a fire break. To be honest, that's what stopped the fire. You can only do so much with water. The disks are what make firefighting happen."

In the aftermath of the fire, farmers, ranchers and community members came together to keep the sand from blowing. Farmers drilled cover crops to hold the sand in place, and the Haxtun FFA Chapter installed about 3 miles of snow fence around peoples' properties to keep sand from drifting. Several members have pitched in to help clean up debris, and have committed to help rebuild fence and replant shelter belts.

Members of the community stepped in immediately to provide clothes, shelter and food to anyone in need.

Livestock auctions have also played a big role. Livestock Exchange LLC of Brush, Colo., auctioned a single steer multiple times to bring in over $30,000. Sterling Livestock Commission Co. in Sterling held a similar rollover auction to raise over $30,000.

Meanwhile, multiple FFA chapters in northeast Colorado, including Wiggins FFA, Brush FFA and Holyoke FFA have held auctions and volunteered time to help with relief.

Monsanto donated $50,000, and several Colorado farm credit associations, and CoBank donated a combined $25,000 to go toward Colorado Farm Bureau's disaster relief fund to help victims of the fire.

"It's really been neat to see. Pro Till [an equipment dealer in northeast Colorado and western Nebraska] created a couple GoFundMe pages for people that lost their homes. Over $30,000 has been donated to one of those pages just in cash donations," Biesemeier says. "The community has been at the front of donating. Boxes upon boxes of things have been donated. The community has stepped up big time."

Farmers helping farmers
Local ag organizations have also played a big role — including the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and Colorado Farm Bureau — garnering support through social media and gathering donations for hay and fencing.

Many individual producers within these organizations are volunteering their time and resources to help fellow producers in need. After the fire, donations started coming in from across the country, so Coloradans Justin Price of Sedgewick, Julie Kokes of Crook and Dan Firme of Haxtun, all members of the Northeast Colorado Cattlemen's Association, have been answering phone calls, emails and working with donors on social media to manage deliveries of hay, fencing and other supplies.

"We've had a lot of people from Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota stepping up and donating cash funds to get farmers and ranchers new fence. The hay and feed has just been amazing," Price says. "The other day, three ranchers from Lisco, Neb., brought 14 rolls of brand-new wire down."

Kokes, Price and Firme established a Facebook page — NE Colorado Immediate Fire Relief for Farmers & Ranchers — to keep track of relief efforts and donations. By the end of March, the Facebook page had over 1,600 followers.

Since the fire, thousands of tons of hay, feedstuffs and mineral have been donated to the local community, and livestock and horse owners. And it hasn't just been from neighboring states; donations have come from 26 states, including as far away as Michigan, Ohio and New York.

"I got a call from a guy from New York saying, ‘I know you need hay, and I've got 100 tons. And it'll be coming as soon as we get the trucks lined up to get it there,’" says Plumb. "You're talking about trucking hay from over 1,000 miles away to the little bitty town of Haxtun. There's no stoplight here. You don't have to stop here if you don't want to, but people are sending hay."

"I've got two boys, ages 9 and 7, and I told them, 'All you see here is proof that there's way more good in this world than there is bad. You just don't see it on TV every day,'" Firme adds.

"It's been one of the most amazing experiences I've ever been a part of," Julie Kokes, who teaches third grade in Sterling, Colo. "It's such an encouragement to everyone. In a way, there's a ripple effect in the kindness and paying it forward. It might start with fire relief, but it really has spread into other areas."

The work is far from over. It will take several years for rangeland to recover enough to graze again, and many producers are planning to drylot their cows for the summer. "It's coming together. It's just going to take some time. We'd like to thank the producers from Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, anyone who brought hay in," Price says. "The rural community really stepped up and helped the people that needed housing, clothes, food and feed for their livestock."

Anyone interested in donating hay or fencing supplies can contact Justin Price at 970-580-6315, Dan Firme at 970-520-0949, Jeff Plumb at 970-520-6157, or Julie Kokes at 970-580-8108.

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