Texas wildfires kill, injure thousands of animals

Published on April 15, 2006
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A week of wildfires in mid-March killed cattle by the thousands on the ranches of the Texas Panhandle.

Inspectors from the Texas Animal Health Commission helped assess damage, coordinate burial, and locate facilities to hold stray livestock. Private practitioners treated or euthanized injured animals. Dr. Brad Williams, TAHC area director, estimated that 10,000 animals died as a result of the fires.

"These are huge ranches we're dealing with," Dr. Williams said. His team went into recovery mode even while firefighters continued to work. "They were still fighting fires, but there were dead animals everywhere."

The wildfires also burned grassy pastures and wooden fence posts, leaving little grazing and few fence lines intact. Ranchers collected hay, feed, and fencing materials as they corralled the surviving cattle. Dr. Williams said many ranchers are shipping livestock to other locations.

He added that the evacuation efforts had focused on people and pets because of the ferocity of the widespread wildfires. His team tried cutting some fences to push out the cattle, but the cows and calves saw smoke and headed back toward the fire. He said at least a dozen ranch horses also died, but wildlife seemed to fare better than livestock.

Carla Everett, TAHC public information officer, said almost 5 million acres burned in Texas between Christmas and mid-March. The worst wildfires were probably in the Panhandle, though. Everett said fires sparked up everywhere, and many cattle couldn't outrun the flames or ran right into fences.

"It's heartbreaking to see those bodies laying out there, those carcasses," she said. While the TAHC inspectors coordinated burial to prevent pollution of the water system, the ranchers placed priority on the surviving cattle. "They have been rounding up any of the livestock that are able to be saved."

Everett said groups are collecting hay, feed, fencing materials, and monetary donations for ranchers in the area. The Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and Livestock Marketing Association of Texas have established the Cattlemen's Disaster Relief Fund. Donors can address checks to 5501 I-40 West, Amarillo, TX 79106.

Information about the wildfires is available through the TAHC Web site at www.tahc.state.tx.us. More details, including photos and maps, are available through Texas A&M University's AgNews at http://agnews.tamu.edu.