The Tale of Two Disasters

Wildfire 2
A hole remains where a bridge once stood – destroyed by a wildfire that burned nearly all of the grass acres on this ranch in Clark County, Kan. 

Twelve hours after witnessing, first-hand, the devastation wrought by fire and wind, I turned on the television to reports of sleet, snow and blizzard conditions.

These were two separate natural disasters, one predicted, reported and planned for, the other unforeseen, nearly unimaginable and deadly.

Last week, more than 10 counties in Kansas fell victim to wildfires with Oklahoma and Texas also fighting blazes. The exact causes of the fires are still under investigation but dry conditions, heavy winds and low humidity created an atmosphere ripe for a blaze. Ranchers across southern and western Kansas were caught unaware and largely unprepared. The fire leveled homes, metal buildings, vehicles and animals. Hundreds of thousands of acres of pasture were blackened and thousands of animals were killed or so injured that owners were forced to put them down. The scars of the fire are still visible and daunting and the recovery will take months, if not years.

A week after the fires, the Northeast is experiencing a late winter storm that is dumping cold, wind and snow. Public transportation has slowed, offices and the government are abbreviating operating hours and people are being asked to stay home and stay warm. Meteorologists saw the storm coming and municipalities were able to treat roads, close schools and reschedule events. Some estimates predict 18 million people will be impacted but no fatalities have been reported.

The fires in the Midwest and the blizzard in the east are two separate but not equal disasters. Television reports would lead you to believe the blizzard will handicap and devastate the I-95 corridor when in fact, life will likely return to normal in a matter of days. But the farmers and ranchers still sorting through injured animals, broken fences and piles of ashes that were once homes, have received little to no national attention. No major television networks giving hour-by-hour updates or ticker tape read outs of the economic impact of the fires. Instead volunteers from far and wide, many livestock owners or farmers themselves, have trekked to Clark County and other impacted areas to donate their time, energy and resources to help the rebuilding efforts. There are few federal dollars helping the recovery and municipalities in the region are too small to provide any substantial level of support or service.

Federal dollars will be slow to arrive to the fire victims – as most are funneled through FEMA, which cannot help these types of situations – and what few disaster programs exist will only cover a fraction of the lost income and future revenue sources. The fires will completely change some ranches and force those who have lived off the land for their entire lives to find other sources of employment.

Wildfires
Burnt remains of a metal building lay in a pile to be removed. The wildfire that destroyed pastures and killed livestock also decimated homes, offices and sheds. 

Meanwhile, those living in the Northeast will return to work Wednesday, having had a day to rest, recoup and let the storm pass them by. Federal and state dollars will power snowplows, tree trimmers and salt trucks to lessen the burden on residents.

We often hear about the invisibility of the “fly over states” but the timeliness of these two disasters only proves to illustrate the resilience and determination of Rural America. No warnings to help them prepare and evacuate, no public dollars to clear away the debris and no minute-by-minute updates to inform the nation of the devastation. Just hardworking families and farmers working tirelessly to rebuild their homes, their businesses and their way of life.

If you want to help the victims of the recent fires, please use the link to below to donate online:

http://www.kla.org/donationform.aspx

 

Any and all help will be appreciated.


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