Rancher Jesse Huffman headed to his pastures with gun and bullets in hand.
He figured when wildfires blazed through his family’s ranch near Vici, Oklahoma, that he’d have cattle to put down.
On the evening of April 12, Huffman and his family were scurrying as the fires leaped toward their ranch. The smoke had rolled in first. There was only a little bit of time to get their horses moved out of the pasture.
They never got to the cattle.
“At that point, it was pitch black,” Huffman said. “You try to do what you can, then when it was dark with the smoke and you have to be careful about your own safety.”
Then Huffman and his wife and children evacuated to Woodward.
His father, Dale, stuck around for a while, although there was little he could do, Huffman said. The fire moved through the area about midnight.
Somehow, his house, his parents’ home and his sister’s home were spared. A fire truck stopped by his sister’s place at 3 a.m. and wetted down the structure.
“That saved it,” he said, adding the home has tall grass all around it, except for her yard, which is mowed short.
But the fire got close enough that the blinds in the south bedroom melted.
The fire crews were able to control the fires near his home and his father’s home, he said.
That Friday morning, as the smoke cleared, the Huffmans headed to their pastures to check on their cattle.
“That next morning, we prepared for the worst,” Huffman said. “We didn’t know if there would be any alive or if we would have to shoot them or what.”
About 85 percent of Huffman’s pastures and 90 percent of his father’s pastures burned, he said. When they arrived to assess the scene, their cow/calf herds were standing there, waiting for them.
Huffman speculates the ponds in the pastures kept the cattle alive.
“Dad had two cows that had their hair singed a little, but that was as bad as it was,” he said.
There will be fences to rebuild, he said on April 19 amid moving cattle out of the ash and dust and feeding them. Huffman said he still has about 20 bales of hay left. They’ve found pasture to relocate their cows.
“We have pretty good people who offered some who didn’t get burned up,” he said.
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Amy Bickel can be reached at [email protected].