Posted: Jul 11, 2012 7:59 AM by Dustin Klemann - KTVQ News
Updated: Jul 11, 2012 9:17 AM
ASHLAND - Fire crews continue to fight blazes in southeastern Montana. Even though containment is nearing 100 percent, ranchers are just beginning to assess the effects.
With close to 249,000 acres burned in less than two weeks, a fire that grew quickly took homes, as well as cattle. Cecil Kolka has lived at his ranch near Ashland since 1935. He's witnessed crippling fires, but none as devastating as the Ash Creek fire.
Kolka owns more than 800 head of cattle and half have been taken by the mighty fire. Scattered deep in the pastures lay dead cattle, some piled on top of other another not able to escape. For those cattle that remained on the ridges of the fire, some have become so badly burned, they aren't expect to survive. Another issue facing owners is the lack of adequate food and water for remaining cattle. More than 8500 cattle are considered to be affected.
The Ash Creek fire grew to a substatial size overnight, making it difficult for Kolka to herd cattle from his three rotational pastures. Kolka understands natural disasters but he said it doesn't make it any easier to see his cattle killed by the fire.
Kolka was not the only rancher to lose cattle. Other livestock owners in the area will gather Thursday in Ashland at the local gym to meet with Congressman Denny Rehberg's staff. The staff will provide information on what resources are available to help recovery from the fires and prevent further losses and damages.
Also assisting livestock producers in the USDA Farm Service Agency. They are creating three programs for ranchers that include "emergency use" of acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program due to the fire. Emergency grazing is also another available option.
For now, ranchers including the Kolka's will continue surviving with their business. 80-year-old Cecil Kolka does not plan on leaving his ranch regardless of the financial impact this fire has created his business, "We're pretty determined to make this home for the rest of [our lives]."