On March 22, 2016 in Wood County Oklahoma, a small fire began. Because of high winds and dry climate, that fire would spread into neighboring Kansas. Over 400,000 acres of land would be burnt, making this the largest fire in Kansas history and the 7th largest fire in the history of the United States. The widespread blaze soon became known as the Anderson Creek Wildfire.
Within a day and a half of the fire’s beginning, communication headquarters had been set up in Barber County’s largest community, Medicine Lodge. Here, volunteers from around the community and outsiders specializing in this type of crisis management worked around the clock to provide support to those fighting the fire in the Gyp Hills. Churches opened their doors to feed the volunteers and collect donations for those affected by the blaze.
Locals and firefighters from all around fought side by side to put out the massive flames. After 14 hour days of fighting fires, those in the heat of the situation came back to Medicine Lodge and told stories about how the fire seemed to spread a mile a minute due to the high wind speeds. The rugged terrain of the area made the process seem hopeless at times while the firefighters watched the trees burn at the bottom of large canyons. Wall clouds of smoke could be seen up to 40 miles away as ash rained from the sky on all of the surrounding communities.
The Kansas National Guard Blackhawks were brought to the area to dump 660 gallons of water at a time on the flames. As a member of the community, seeing the Blackhawks flying from the hills back to the lake gave us a boost of hope that our firefighters now had the resources they needed to get ahead of the flames. After 10 days of continuous burning, the fire was contained.
The people who live in the Midwest are known for their resilience and the citizens of Barber, Comanche and Wood Counties are no different. As the fire smolders in the vast canyons of the burnt sienna colored Gyp Hills, the citizens of the area are helping their neighbors to re-build fence, round up cattle and begin rebuilding the outbuildings lost to the fire. People and agricultural organizations from the surrounding area have blessed those affected with gifts ranging from hay donations and hedge posts to cleaning supplies and clothing.
Researchers are still debating what the long term effects of this fire will be. Livestock in the area were lost, and those that survived now suffer from smoke inhalation. Burnt udders are leaving calves under nourished without extra supplements provided by milk replacers and hay. The people of the area have lost thousands of miles of fencing, hay reserves, outbuildings and even homes, but they remain humble and positive for what is yet to come.