Western Oklahoma wildfire data reports significant loss to land, cattle and infrastructure

Wildfire recovery and donations in Ellis County on Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (Photo by Mitchell Alcala/OSU Agriculture)

Wildfires that scorched the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles in late February ravaged livestock forage, destroyed homes, barns and other structures, and killed hundreds of animals.

Oklahoma State University Extension specialists and members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team have gathered data over the past month to grasp the impact of 16 fires that burned within three days.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire claimed an estimated 1,059,570 acres in Texas and Oklahoma and was the largest recorded fire in Texas history. It burned an estimated 31,596 acres Roger Mills and Ellis counties. On the same day, the Catesby Fire scorched 90,699 acres in Ellis County, and the Slapout Fire burned an estimated 26,048 acres in Beaver County. Total damages from all western county fires are estimated at $32.9 million.

“These damages are mainly focused on land that is currently in agricultural use, and Ellis County had the highest number of burned acres,” said Amy Hagerman, OSU Extension specialist in agriculture and food policy.

One of the largest cost categories is the cost of fencing, and Hagerman said about $6.7 million in fencing repair and replacement costs is expected for Ellis County.

“Cattle producer losses are estimated at $5.8 million in Ellis County for recovery costs, and this doesn’t include cattle that died in the fires or had to be sold at a loss on the market,” she said. “A total of 674 head of cattle perished, and 15,000 were estimated to have been displaced and had to be fed.”

The following statistics detail losses in Beaver, Ellis and Roger Mills counties and estimates preliminary losses for Texas, Harper, Woods and Custer counties combined.

“These estimates may increase as more comprehensive assessments of the damages are completed,” Hagerman said. “The losses incurred in the fires will have significant and long-lasting financial impacts on operations and families affected.”

Derrell Peel, OSU Extension livestock marketing specialist, said no lasting market impacts on livestock prices at the regional or national levels are expected, but the events may exacerbate the low availability of replacement heifers.

Beaver County

  • Acres burned: 26,048
  • Cattle deaths: 504
  • Cattle displaced: 725
  • Hay bales lost: 35,000
  • Miles of fence lost: 86
  • Miles of repairable fence: 37
  • Structures lost: 16
  • Estimated total damages: $8.73 million or $335 per burned acre

Ellis County

  • Acres burned: 112,139
  • Cattle deaths: 674
  • Cattle displaced: 15,000
  • Hay bales lost: 40,000
  • Miles of fence lost: 337
  • Miles of repairable fence: 224
  • Structures lost: 65
  • Estimated total damages: $22.76 million or $203 per burned acre

Roger Mills County

  • Acres burned: 10,000
  • Cattle deaths: 19
  • Cattle displaced:324
  • Hay bales lost: 24
  • Miles of fence lost: 18
  • Miles of repairable fence: 17
  • Structures lost: 5
  • Estimated total damages: $1.07 million or $107 per burned acre

Beaver, Custer, Ellis, Harper, Roger Mills, Texas and Woods Counties Combined

  • Acres burned: 152,615
  • Cattle deaths: 1,180
  • Cattle displaced: 16,203
  • Hay bales lost: 75,024
  • Miles of fence lost: 431
  • Miles of repairable fence: 274
  • Structures lost: 86
  • Estimated total damages: $32.9 million or $215 per acre

Those affected by the western Oklahoma fires are encouraged to apply for recovery assistance available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Hagerman said the Emergency Conservation Program can help with fence replacement costs, and the Livestock Indemnity Program can provide financial assistance to replace cattle lost. The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish is also an option when funding is needed to transport hay to wildfire-stricken regions.

For more information about wildfire impact data or federal disaster assistance programs, please email [email protected].

Watch Hagerman discuss the Ellis County destruction and other wildfire statistics on “SUNUP,” the agricultural production television show of OSU Agriculture.