Race on to save animals caught in Texas Panhandle wildfires

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Many cattle perished in the Texas Panhandle wildfires, but others that survived will need to be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Many cattle perished in the Texas Panhandle wildfires, but others that survived will need to be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible. © Texas A&M AgriLife / Andy Holloway

Wind-whipped wildfires raced across the Texas Panhandle earlier this week, leaving behind tragic human losses, as well as about 480,000 acres of charred land in eight counties, hundreds of miles of burned fences and uncounted number of dead or injured animals with the flames still moving.

Several people have died, including three in Gray County. Young couple Cody Crockett, 20, and Sydney Wallace, 23, and rancher Sloan Everett died while trying to save horses and cattle from the wildfires.

Livestock Supply Points are being established in both Gray and Lipscomb counties by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to help producers who suffered losses of feed, said Danny Nusser, regional program leader in Amarillo.

Map showing the Panhandle region of Texas, which comprises 26 counties.
Map showing the Panhandle region of Texas, which comprises 26 counties.

“We know there are animal death losses and the Texas Animal Health Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will take care of those issues, however, we also know there are those people who need help with their live animals right now,” Nusser said.

“We have livestock that are displaced and don’t have forages available to keep them fed. We are setting up two Livestock Supply Points to collect and disperse feed, hay, fencing, vet supplies and other donated items.”

Anything donated will be used to offset the mounting expenses the fire damage will cause for producers caught in its path, said Dr Steve Amosson, AgriLife Extension economist.

Amosson said there are several different cost factors related to wildfire losses, starting with the cost of cattle lost, at about $1,300 per cow-calf pair, and then millions of dollars in needed fence repairs required. He estimated the cost is $10,000 a mile for a four to six-wire fence with steel posts.

He said there is also the expense of feed for displaced livestock, plus any costs that might be associated with disposal of those that perished in the fire.

Wildfires had also flared up in in Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas, with two deaths reported.

Cody Crockett and Sydney Wallace died while trying to save animals from the fires.
Cody Crockett and Sydney Wallace died while trying to save animals from the fires.

Animals who made it through the fires  need to be checked for injuries as soon as possible, said Dr Ted McCollum, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist in Amarillo.

“It’s important to have them looked at by a veterinarian as soon as possible because there could be secondary problems that lead to infections and further problems,” McCollum said.

The fires came at a very inopportune time for ranchers who are beginning the calving season, McCollum said.

“We probably had a lot of calves that were laying out susceptible to the fire, as fast as it was moving across there,” McCollum said. “They had no place to go. Also there will be a lot of mothers with potentially scorched udders. The calves that survived won’t be able to suckle the mothers that have sore udders. Producers should be looking for bawling calves to provide replacement milk to or to sell to someone who can care for them.”

Animals that were not evacuated and remained in a fire danger zone, even if only for a short time, could suffer injuries, McCollum said. A fire-danger zone is the area where the livestock risk inhaling smoke, and changes according to the wind direction. Smoke can move for miles, and cattle that are not near the flames or heat could suffer some injury.

Contact with burning grass, weeds and brush causes immediate burns; however, inhalation of smoke causes immediate irritation to the lining of the respiratory system, including nasal passages, trachea and lungs, he said. This can lead to inflammation, edema and emphysema, with the severity determined by the duration of inhaled smoke.

Once the fire has passed, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately for any animals with severe burns or direct smoke exposure.

Several agencies are responding to the Panhandle fires.
Several agencies are responding to the Panhandle fires. © Texas A&M Forest Service

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