AgriLife Extension recognizes Panhandle Wildfire Response Team with agency award

The actions of a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service team in the wake of the devastating March 6 and 7 wildfires earned them recognition as Superior Service award winners by the agency.

Superior Service awards, presented Jan. 9 in College Station, recognize AgriLife Extension personnel who provide outstanding performance in education or other outstanding service to the organization and Texans.

Three separate fires burned over 500,000 acres, leaving in their wake tragic human losses, livestock losses, hundreds of miles of burned fences, said Brandon Dukes, AgriLife Extension district administrator, Amarillo. Economic losses were estimated to be $21 million, not accounting for any loss of equipment.

A large-scale response effort was required and was an effort of many AgriLife Extension personnel, Dukes said in his nomination.

The Panhandle Wildfire Response Team included:

Agriculture and natural resources agents—Andy Holloway, Hemphill; Mike Jeffcoat, Gray; J.R. Sprague, Lipscomb; and Michael Wilkes, Roberts;

Family and community health agents—Joan Gray-Soria, Gray; Wendy Hazzard, Wheeler; Tanya Holloway, Hemphill; and Miquela Smith, Lipscomb;

Specialists—Steve Amosson, Regents Fellow and economist, Amarillo; Ted McCollum, beef cattle specialist, Amarillo; Tim Steffens, rangeland specialist, Canyon; and Kay Ledbetter, media relations specialist, Amarillo.

Regional program leaders—Angela Burkham, family and community health state program leader, Amarillo, and Danny Nusser, North Region program leader for agriculture and natural resources, Amarillo; and

District support staff—Linda Bice, assistant office manager; Jordan Chandler, Ronda Fisher and Kim Garcia, all office associates; and Lori Martin, office manager; all from Amarillo.

Livestock supply points were established in three locations—Pampa, Canadian and Lipscomb—Dukes said. Each distributed thousands of bales of hay and hundreds of tons of feed to help sustain beef producers until critical decisions could be made on their operations.

“There was a tremendous outpouring of support from throughout Texas and the U.S. and within a week, supplies were abundant,” he said. “The focus then shifted to delivering hay and communicating needs for fencing supplies, creep feed, milk replacer, pipe and other supplies.

“Agents, office staff and volunteers coordinated the incoming supplies and delivery to affected producers during the weeks following the fires.”

At each location, agents made decisions to deliver supplies to affected ranches and strategically stockpile hay in locations where producers could pick it up. Additionally, he said, when needs were met, trucks were directed to affected areas in Oklahoma and Kansas.

“This would not have been possible except for the relationships of AgriLife Extension county agents with local producers and volunteers,” he said. “As a direct result of their network, resources reached the hands of those who needed it most.”

Also, in the days following the wildfires, agents began to see producers exhibiting signs of stress. Knowing the danger this imposed to producers, a social media and one-on-one educational campaign was launched by AgriLife Extension family and community health agents.

“This information was timely and no doubt helped many producers through a tragic time in their lives,” he said.

Furthermore, the information continued to come in the months after the event in the form of safety advice for producers working to clean up debris left from the fire.

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“The effort of this entire team exemplified the servant leadership attitude of the employees of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service,” Dukes said. “The countless hours of service and sacrifice for the victims of the wildfires did not go unnoticed.”