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Texas fires result in losses of life, cattle, homes

Kaycee Monnens
for Tri-State Livestock News

Billy Bob Brown was team roping at home when his mother rushed out to the arena to tell him that a fire was directly behind one of their cow pastures and they needed to act quickly. The pasture, six miles from the town of Carbon, Texas, was overtaken in minutes. Within an hour, the fire engulfed those six miles of ground and was closing in on their house. “That kind of explains how fast it was traveling,” says Brown. “You can’t really stop it.”

With 30-35 mile per hour winds, plenty of coastal grass for fuel, and warm temperatures, the conditions were perfect for a dangerous wildfire to spread quickly and without mercy. In fact, the Texas A&M Forest Service stated that this particular fire qualified as a rare weather phenomenon, called a Southern Plains Wildfire Outbreak, “characterized by an environment of dry vegetation, dry west-southwest winds across an area with low relative humidity, above average surface temperatures, an unstable atmosphere and clear, sunny skies.”

The Eastland Complex fire is made up of four fires, one of which overtook Brown’s pastures. It burned just under 55,000 acres, with the town of Carbon at the center of the Complex. Eighty-six homes were lost in Carbon, population 348, and one person was killed. Brown only had one word for the damage to his hometown: devastating.



The Brown Ranch is three generations of hard work, close family ties, and attentive breeding. For their livelihood to be so heavily damaged in a matter of minutes was heartbreaking. Brown himself lost around a dozen yearlings, and his father lost a handful of heifers in the fire. “We’re just very lucky,” he says.

Many cattle are damaged in wildfires by burning of the nose, eyes, feet, and teats. The external damage, however, is not the end. Internal damage, including smoke inhalation and burns, is what causes lasting destruction. The Browns sold a quarter of their herd last week. “There’s really nowhere to go with them right now,” he says. “[Others] were hauling them to the packer by the truck loads. It’s just a really sad deal.”



Brown came home to the ranch several years ago after a career as a professional team roper. “That’s all I did growing up and that’s all I wanted to do,” he says. He barely missed qualifying to the National Finals Rodeo, finishing 17th in the world in 2016. However, taking a step back to evaluate his life, he realized he wanted to ranch and to be surrounded by his family, in preparation for his own one day. “Our time is pretty short, and one of the biggest deals is family to me. There comes a time where you have to evaluate your life and what you want to do with it. My parents aren’t getting any younger, and every day I get to spend with them is sweeter at the end of it,” he says.

Because of his decision to move home and take part in deciding on keeper heifers, operating the ranch, and working alongside his father, seeing their generational work battered by this fire is all the more difficult. “I think each one of us broke down over it,” he says.

Yet, faith in God is helping the family endure their hardship. “The faith has your back at all times, no matter what you’re going through. I’ve been very blessed that my family has always stood strong in that, no matter what the times are […] You just have to trust God’s plan and know that it’s greater than yours. That’s our motto as a family. We have our houses, and we have our help. We’re very blessed. When you think about the heifers–it’s devastating. Those are some things you look forward to in the future: the babies they raise and seeing how good you did. At an emotional time, it hits pretty hard, but everything heals with time,” he says.

If there is something for the Browns to be grateful for, it’s the outpouring of support and help from the community and beyond. Brown says, “One day we got in from the pastures, and the whole front yard was packed with trailers. I bet there was 30 or 40 cowboys around there. The day after, I bet there were 100 people, saying, ‘What can we do?’ and people coming in to unload hay–people you don’t even know showing up and doing stuff. It was pretty incredible and amazing, just to see how many great people there still are in the world. By the end of it, we had some diesel we could fill their trucks up for hauling cows, but they’re the type of guys that wouldn’t have taken anything for helping.”

Federal help may be a little more difficult to come by, however. Eastland County and 10 other counties in Texas experiencing fires have been declared in a state of disaster by Governor Greg Abbott. Yet, the Federal Emergency Management Agency stated that the damages from the fires must total over $48 million for them to issue any aid. Brown says, “They pretty much said it wasn’t near bad enough. It’s one of those things where unless you get your eyes on it, I don’t think you understand how bad it really is. It’s just like a hurricane hitting anywhere else. Some people don’t understand that that’s how people make their living, and that’s what they do.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton visited the town of Carbon Friday, March 25 and delivered a speech expressing his support for the people of the community who have lost everything and a promise to help with the rebuilding efforts. Brown and other locals are hopeful that because the Attorney General has seen the wreckage for himself, he may be able to gain support from other government officials.

Two days after the fire hit the Brown Ranch, the family hosted a jackpot team roping, as they do regularly. “It was good to take a break for a few hours, to have that camaraderie […] There’s a lot of love between our family and the rodeo crowd. It was good for everybody,” he says. The family are finding ways to move forward in the aftermath.

The sources of the fires are unknown, but the Texas A&M Forest Service urges residents to avoid driving and parking on grass, to check tow chains when pulling trailers, obey burn bans, and avoid welding and grinding. The Eastland Fire Complex is 100 percent contained. According to the Texas Wildfire Incident Response System, as of Friday, April 1, there are 39 contained and active fires in Texas, with 215,000 acres burned.

Burned cattle are nearly unrecognizable in the aftermath of a series of Texas wildfires. Photo by Billy Bob Brown.
Billy Bob Brown operates a three-generation ranch with his father, Kris. Their losses came on several different fronts in the aftermath of the wildfire that swept their place. Photo courtesy of Billy Bob Brown.
The town of Carbon, Texas sits in the center of the Eastland Complex fire. The loss of homes, cattle, and grassland is a tragedy for local ranchers and residents alike. Photo by Cindy Wood.
A recipe for disaster: warm, southwestern winds, coastal grass, and no humidity in the state of Texas has led to over 60 fires and 125,000 acres burned so far this spring. Photo by Tammy Wald.

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