As officials assessed damage to crops and livestock from wildfires, neighbors raced to fields and mountains to help move animals away from the flames.
This week was poignant to agricultural teacher Howard Houston, whose father and brother were killed by wildfire in 2007 near Neola as they were helping a neighbor move irrigation sprayers in an attempt to block the flames. The neighbor also died.
On Tuesday night, Houston was among 20 people loading 125 cattle onto semitrucks to escape the Wood Hollow Fire in Sanpete County, which has scorched more than 45,000 acres. The rigs were provided by ranchers whose herds were out of danger.
“I asked him if he was OK, and he said yes, he wanted to help,” said Houston’s friend, Nyle Russell. “I said the keys are in the truck so we can go anytime, but he wanted to stay. There were a lot of people out there helping.”
Riders on horseback herded cattle into a meadow near Birdseye, where others loaded the cows and calves into three semis and several trailers. Sheriff’s deputies allowed volunteers into the area only when the winds shifted.
Crews kept the fire from continuing to spread west of Highway 89 and south of Nebo Creek, where flames had earlier burned within a mile and a half of the area.
Outside Fairview, Brian Howarth helped a friend move sheep away from the flames, but several animals’ bodies were blackened from the intense heat. Other animals were so hot that their bodies exploded.
So far, state agriculture officials say 80 sheep and 12 horses have been killed in the fires.
Burned-out ranges also are forcing ranchers to move their livestock away from public lands.
The Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City and local fairparks are opening their gates to animals needing shelter. And some farmers are donating hay, according to the Utah Agriculture Service.
Hay is priced at $205 per ton — up $30 per ton from May and $38 per ton higher than May of last year. With so many wildfires, prices are expected to go even higher.
“Hay donations will help in the short term, but we’re looking at funding sources to buy hay and other feed that farmers and ranchers will need,” said Sanpete County Commissioner Steven Frischknecht. “There are a number of grants we’re looking at, but we need to know what’s needed before we can lay out our plans.”
Jack Mcallister, who owns a ranch north of Fairfield, said 4,000 acres of his 6,000 spread have been burned. He hasn’t lost any of his 1,500 head of sheep, but he’s had to bring his herd down from mountain pastures early, requiring more feed.
“The mountain is a mound of ashes,” he said. “A little bit of our ranch was saved and we didn’t lose any buildings. Hopefully we’ll get some rain or snow so the ranges will rejuvenate, and hopefully the state will help us with reseeding.”
Larry Lewis, spokesman for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, said officials already are putting in seed orders. But wildfires throughout the West could drive up prices or exhaust the supply.
Lewis noted that reseeded rangelands once lost in other fires are recovering and replanted grasses are less of a fire hazard.
Have an animal displaced by wildfires?
Utah State Fairpark is opening its gates to animals displaced by wildfires. Here’s what to do:
Call • 801-538-8400 to let officials know you’re coming.
Address • 155 N. 1000 West in Salt Lake City.
Others • Contact local fairparks, many of which are accommodating animal owners.