Larry Konrade of Ashland likes hunting everything from doves to huge whitetail bucks.
But when he left his house Tuesday morning with a favored rifle, he was dreading the day. He felt even worse when it was over.
“It’s horrible, just horrible. I left the house with (60) shells and used them all,” Konrade said. He said he probably killed 40 cows, “and in a lot of places there weren’t even very many left alive to put down.”
Konrade, an accountant by trade, had spent the day helping a local Clark County rancher destroy cattle maimed in the wildfire that he says burned almost the entire county.
“All in all, I’d guess I seen between 300 and 400 dead cattle,” he said. “It was just a matter of putting animals out of their misery, doing them a favor. They were going to die anyway.
“It’s horrible out there, the things I saw today. The fire was so big, and so much of Clark County burned, I don’t see how anything lived through it.”
Very few cattle did, according to Randall Spare, co-owner of Ashland Veterinary Center.
“Let me put it into perspective: If someone had 500 cattle on their ranch, I’d guess at least 80 to 90 percent were killed in the last day,” Spare said. “That’s not including the calves; we’re really getting into calving season and there was a lot of baby calves on the ground.”
Thinking of some of his customers, Spare estimated they lost at least 1,600 adult cattle and probably another 500 calves, or more. That could equate to losses well into the millions.
One fire came up from Oklahoma, endangering the tiny town of Englewood. Another started north of Ashland and eventually endangered the county seat. Both towns were evacuated.
Konrade talked of driving about 20 miles through Clark County and seeing nothing but burned areas for as far as he could see.
“Even those big old cottonwoods, the ones with the alligatory bark, they were burned bare about 15 feet up,” Konrade said.
Spare, the veterinarian, said conditions could not have been worse for endangering livestock.
“These cows were pretty comfortable, just starting to calve, and there was plenty of grass for them,” Spare said. “These ranchers out here are good stewards; they know how to take care of their pastures.
“But a lot of grass can be a double-edged sword. That’s a lot of fuel that can burn in a hurry.”
Konrade said local ranchers, and most area residents, knew there could be bad fires this year.
“Every time you come back in (from hunting or working in pastures) you knew how much fuel was there,” he said. “We’ve gotten good moisture the last three years.
“It’s been dry lately, so you know if you get 60 miles-per-hour winds and anything ignites it, it’s going to burn fast. Still, we never dreamed it could all burn up that fast, but it did.”
He spoke of a 22,000-acre ranch that was basically untouched at Monday’s sunset that was mostly ashes by Tuesday’s dawn. About any area that hadn’t burned Monday caught on fire Tuesday.
As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, he said volunteer crews were fighting the fire along the Cimarron River near the Oklahoma border south of Sitka.
“It’s burning hot, and it’s gotten down in all that tamarack and thick brush along the river,” he said. “God only knows when that might stop. It could burn all the way down to Stillwater, Oklahoma.”
Cattle weren’t the only things Konrade saw dead as he euthanized cattle on Tuesday. Wildlife also took a serious hit over much of the area.
“I saw a lot of dead deer, a lot,” he said. “I think I saw maybe 20 deer alive, one coyote, one quail and four rooster pheasants.
“We had so much, especially quail, before the fire,” said Konrade, who also runs a hunting guide service in the fall and winter. “I think the outfitting deal may be over, at least for a few years. I don’t see how anything could have survived through what just happened.
“I hope I’m wrong. It doesn’t look good. It’s horrible.”