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Photo credit: Shelby Mettlen, Angus Media

Faith After Fire

By Shelby Mettlen   |   Angus Media
3/30/2017

Entering Clark County, Kan., you’re greeted by a sign reading, “Fire damage ahead. Use caution.” It doesn’t completely prepare you for the charred, twisted fences and scorched earth that follow. Nearly a month after the devastating March 6 wildfires that swept through counties in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas, shoots of green grass are beginning to appear from the dust and the ash.

In Clark and Comanche counties alone, the area hardest hit, fires burned an estimated 484,000 acres, 461,000 of those in Clark County. Hundreds of miles of fence were destroyed, thousands of cattle perished and more than 100 structures, including homes, bridges and outbuildings, were lost. A truck driver died in Kansas, and as many as six more lives were lost in Texas and Oklahoma.

The devastation is evident. It’s easy to see. Yet, shining through that darkness are the optimism and sense of community being illustrated by the town of Ashland, Kan., and the surrounding communities.

#AshlandStrong

Mark and Eva Gardiner of Gardiner Angus Ranch outside Ashland lost their home, 550 head of cattle, more than 250 miles of fence and all but about 320 acres of pasture to the blaze.

Even in the wake of such loss, Eva says, “The good outshines the bad.”

“The devastation of the fire, the economic loss, the suffering of the cattle and other animals, and of people because of all of that devastation, certainly is very tragic,” she says, “but the goodness and the light is certainly outweighing that.”

She’s referring to the outpouring of support from not just the community and surrounding areas, but of agriculture across the country. Volunteers from across the United States are donating their time, money and effort to help ranches in the community rebuild.

It’s heartening to watch volunteers show up out of the goodness of their hearts, she says. “It’s an overwhelming experience to see that, and just to know that is the true heart of being human.”

It’s a “great gift that we would not have seen otherwise,” she says.

Dozens of stories of support and optimism have been generated by volunteers, young and old, from across the country who have made their way to tiny Ashland, Kan., to give back to those who have lost so much.

Kim Hazen is an office manager for Home Lumber in Ashland, but since the fires on March 6, she’s become somewhat of a community organizer and crisis manager.

Shortly after the blaze swept the area, Hazen received a phone call asking if she would be willing to coordinate volunteers coming to Ashland to offer support.

“I said ‘yes,’ because I never say ‘no’ to anything,” she laughs. She’s just one of many generous members of the Ashland community who have donated their time to feed firefighters, mission groups and various other volunteers who have congregated at the Ashland Christian Service Camp for a place to stay after traveling to help.

As of March 25, more than 200 volunteers had checked in at the church camp, located near the Ashland Feed and Seed, where a steady stream of trucks have come to unload hay, fencing supplies, food and toiletries for those in need.

“At first, I wanted to write all of it down. I wanted to tell everyone, ‘thank you.’ We’ll never be able to tell everyone, ‘thank you,’ ” she says through tears, “because there are too many.”

Donations continue to come in, and will need to continue, as fences, outbuildings, homes, farms and ranches are rebuilt. Donations to help the local fire departments are also needed as the fire took its toll on equipment. To donate in any form, and for more information on the fires, visit the Ashland Community Foundation website at www.ashlandcf.com.

The American Angus Association has compiled this list of resources for additional ways to contribute to the multi-state wildfire recovery.

The Angus Media team recently traveled to Clark County, Kan., and look forward to sharing the stories of strength through adversity in upcoming episodes of The Angus Report, which airs at 7:30 a.m. CST each Monday on RFD-TV, and in the Angus Journal.