Ochsner family, other ranchers hit by Prairie Center fire in Wyoming
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The Ochsner family is grateful. As they continue to inventory burned acres, bury dead cattle and try to put out a smoldering silage pile, they keep returning to how thankful and grateful they are. The Ochsner Ranch, a five-generation, family-run operation known for their registered Hereford and Angus bulls, was in the path of a wildfire that burned through eastern Wyoming last week.
On Sunday, July 10, lightning started the Prairie Center fire near Torrington, Wyoming. Firefighters put the fire out that evening, but on Monday, July 11 at about 11 a.m. the fire came back to life, encouraged by a low relative humidity and fanned by 30 mile per hour sustained winds and 60 mile per hour gusts, according to Jeremy Wardell, lieutenant with the Goshen County Sheriff’s office, volunteer firefighter and public information officer for the Prairie Center fire.
When the flames died down it had burned an estimated 25,000 acres and nine structures. Dixie (Ochsner) Roth, who, with her husband, Steve, is a partner in the family ranch, said they estimate about 12-15,000 of those acres were on their ranch. “It mostly burned our winter calving facilities and pastures. We have a lot of planning and thinking to do on how to run our operation.”
While they know the fences and buildings can be rebuilt, and the grass will grow back, their prayers right now are with another partner in the ranch, Rodney Ochsner, as he recovers from serious injuries he sustained when the fire truck he was in collided head-on with another fire truck in dense smoke. He was airlifted to Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff. He suffered a broken pelvis, broken ankle, seven broken ribs and numerous facial injuries, according to his niece, Erin Hinton. He was in critical condition, but was recently downgraded to serious condition.
Though most of the Ochsners’ cattle were on summer pasture, which wasn’t burned, 85 head of registered Angus and Hereford cattle were killed in the fire, and Roth said they will be euthanizing more cattle, and treating 400 head for smoke inhalation. They also lost 1,250 bales of hay and a lot of their silage. A fire flared up in a corn bin at the Ochsner ranch on Thursday, and the fire department was working on a plan of action with a Nebraska fire chief who has experience with grain bin fires, said Wardell.
“All the homes are safe, by the grace of God is all we can say,” Roth said. “There’s no reason they should be standing.” She also credits the firefighters with making sure the three homes in the path of the fire were still there to come home to. “They worked their tails off. We wouldn’t have anything left if it wasn’t for our wonderful firefighters.”
While the Ochsner family had heavy losses, Roth is quick to point out that they aren’t the only ones affected. “We feel horrible about all our friends and neighbors who have losses,” she said.
She said the Lay Ranch, Chuck and Kayle Berry, Larry Rice, Bruce Simmons and Barry Baldwin all were affected by the fire as well. Some lost cattle, and one horse was killed.
As soon as word of the fire got out, donations began pouring in. “We didn’t ask for anything, and it just appeared,” Roth said. “We can’t even begin to thank the people for the kindness, hay, food, labor, friendship, love and prayers. We don’t even know where to begin. We found out it’s a lot harder to receive those gifts.”
“It’s amazing, the outpouring of love from not just Goshen County, but all over the place,” Hinton said. “There’s so much that’s been given they can’t even keep up with who brought what. It’s amazing just seeing it down there. Just seeing all this hay and people bringing trailers to round up cattle, and fenceposts and meals. It’s pretty awesome to see.”
Roth said the neighbors are getting some donations as well. “Everyone has been gracious and we’re so thankful for everything that has been done. We’re trying to share around to make sure all of us are getting what we need.
“The main thing is that if anyone is praying, we just pray that my brother makes it. Everything else is replaceable.”
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