Early reports from the Texas Panhandle paint a grim picture of what remains following three wildfires that scorched nearly half a million acres last week.
The three fires—Lefors, Perryton and Dumas—caused at least $21 million in agricultural losses, according to early estimates from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
The estimate does not yet account for the loss of equipment in the fires.
“The assessment of acreage burned is about all we have a good estimate on at this time,” Dr. Steve Amosson, AgriLife Extension economist in Amarillo, said. “There are a lot of losses, and we just don’t know all of them at this time.”
The estimate accounts for $6.1 million in loss of pastures, $6.1 million in damage to fencing, $3.8 million to replace lost buildings and corrals, $4 million in livestock lost and about $1 million in emergency hay and feed.
Those numbers are expected to climb as farmers, ranchers and landowners uncover more damage. The amount of livestock deaths from the fires is also expected to rise as additional animals succumb to fire and smoke-related injuries.
Current estimates are that about 2,500 cattle died as a result of the wildfires.
“We’re still dealing with chaos,” Amosson said. “They’re still trying to find cattle.”
AgriLife reports that an estimated 975 miles of fencing will need to be repaired or replaced following the fires.
“I expect the amount of fence that has to be replaced to rise once they start to repair it and if the wire is too brittle to be effective due to the heat, therefore, this loss will increase,” Amosson said. “The total amount that will have to be replaced versus repaired will not be known for some time.”
The damage estimate is also expected to rise as longer-term issues arise. For example, pastures that were intended for spring grazing are now charred. Ranchers will have to decide whether to use feed, lease unaffected pastures or send the cattle to market.
The Perryton area fire burned 318,156 acres, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, making it the third largest in the state’s history.
The Dumas area fire scorched 28,800 acres and the Lefors fire consumed 135,000 acres before being contained by fire crews.
Right now, it is unclear if the three Panhandle wildfires will result in more losses than the wildfires that damaged the Panhandle in 2006. That fire is considered the state’s largest, burning 907,245 acres.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also granted Governor Greg Abbott’s request for assistance.
“Those affected by the wildfires have a long road ahead in rebuilding their lives and property and this assistance will aid significantly in that effort,” Abbott said. “In true Texas fashion, I have no doubt that the Panhandle community will come out of this stronger than before.”
The Farm Service Agency under the USDA has made the following programs available to those affected: Livestock Indemnity Program; emergency assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program; Tree Assistance Program; and emergency use of the Conservation Reserve Program for grazing.
To help farmers and ranchers affected by the fires, Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) has set up a Panhandle Wildfire Relief Fund.
Credit card donations may be made via the TFB website at http://TexasFarmBureau.org/panhandle-wildfire-relief-fund.
Checks may be made out to the Texas Farm Bureau Agriculture Research and Education Foundation and mailed to: Panhandle Wildfire Committee, P.O. Box 2689, Waco, Texas 76702-2689. Please include “Attention: Cyndi Gerik” on donation envelopes.
Farmers and ranchers with an unreimbursed loss from the recent Panhandle wildfires may apply for assistance. Applications are available at: http://texasfarmbureau.org/panhandle-wildfire-relief-fund.