Newly elected Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board member’s ranch burned in wildfire

It has been a particularly warm, dry and windy month for much of the High Plains, and wildfires have been a constant concern. On April 12, another fire broke out in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma, and Jimmy Taylor’s 12,000-acre ranch was sitting in the path of destruction.

This fire, known as the Berlin Road Fire, was located 11 miles north of Sayre, Oklahoma, and was fueled by wind speeds of up to 47 miles an hour.

Taylor, who is the volunteer leader of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and is currently serving as the vice chair of Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board and was the 2013 Oklahoma Angus Association Commercial Breeder of the Year, owns a 600 head commercial Angus operation near Cheyenne, Oklahoma.

“We had single digit relative humidity and with the other fire conditions, it was extremely hard to stop,” Taylor said. “I heard 30 different fire departments were out here.”

Taylor was several hours away picking up a bull when the fire began and he started receiving messages about the situation. His wife, Tracy, was alone at the ranch.

“I made a rapid trip home towing a trailer, keeping in contact with my wife and I was scrambling to move cattle with the flames approaching. I made that trip faster than usual, but it seemed like it took me an eternity to get back with what was going on.”

Jimmy Taylor credits many of his friends and neighbors with helping move cattle out of the path of the fire and the rural fire departments and county workers for slowing an out of control blaze. As the fire burned, five of Taylor’s pastures were emptied totaling about 200 cows. Fortunately, Taylor did not lose any livestock.

“I can’t say enough about rural fire departments,” Taylor said. They did a fantastic job and with the fire conditions we had, it’s a miracle that they were able to get that thing stopped. In my mind I was thinking with these conditions, they’re not going to be able to stop it and it’s going to go through my whole ranch.”

Berlin Fire Chief Rusty Miller said in total the Berlin Road Fire burned 3,700 acres. An old barn and an abandoned house were destroyed, but no livable houses burned and no livestock were lost. The cause is unknown at this time, but he said some aspects of the fire make it look suspicious.

“It burned the southern part of my ranch and they got it stopped right at the headquarter lodge,” Taylor explained. “I would guess 800 to 1,000 acres of my ranch burned and it burned through about one-third of my ranch distance-wise. It could have been a lot worse. These situations remind us what a great community we live in,” Taylor said. “The fire departments worked in conjunction with two of our county commissioner districts. They provided road graders and a bulldozer and water tanks. A couple of my friends, Brad Harrison and Chad Smith, used their tankers to haul water out to the fire trucks to refill them, without anyone even asking. I had so many texts and calls with people offering help and support, I couldn’t even keep up with them. It was just overwhelming the amount of support we got from our friends and surrounding community.”

Miller said he is concerned for future fires with high winds and dry conditions. His department spent three days repairing equipment that was damaged in the Berlin Road Fire. Taylor’s advice to other ranchers is to be vigilant in the current dry conditions, but he recognizes the conundrum droughts can bring.

“If I do a good job as a rancher in rotating my pastures and not over grazing, where I have enough grass to carry me through times of drought, like we have right now, it helps provide more forage for my cattle, but it also creates fuel for wildfires,” he said. “Those ranchers that do a good job managing their pastures expose themselves a little bit to fire danger.”

He also said to remember to support rural fire districts and county workers as they are sometimes the only defense when a wildfire ignites.

Lacey Vilhauer can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].