As wildfires approached, Mike Koehn and his wife, Myrna, evacuated their home a few miles west of Protection in Comanche County on Monday. They returned home Tuesday morning to find everything gone.
“That old wildfire came through here; it came fast and hard. There was no time to do nothing but run,” Mike Koehn said.
Firefighters were unable to help them, he said. The line of fire stretched at least 4 miles, fueled by 50-mph winds.
“It came so fast, there was just nothing, nothing to do. We was going out of the drive and the police stopped us and told us we needed to get out of here,” Mike Koehn said. “And that is just what we did. That is about the size of it. We lost the house, all of the tractors, the truck, a whole bunch of small stuff.
It’s just the way it goes. We was just in the way of something that was pretty mean.
Mike Koehn of Protection
“It was a two-story house, and it’s all in the basement now,” Koehn said. “It’s just the way it goes. We was just in the way of something that was pretty mean.”
As they waited for an insurance adjuster, neighbors began showing up.
“Sorry,” said John Herd, a neighbor and friend who got out of his truck wearing an Ashland cap and overalls underneath a work jacket. “I don’t know what else to say.”
They shared stories they had heard about the fire.
“Wilson lost a couple of houses,” Herd said and then told Koehn he could stay in their motel, which they joked had a “no occupancy” sign on it the night before.
“The price would be right,” Herd said.
Koehn told him they would probably stay with his mother again in Protection until they figured out what the insurance would pay for.
Another neighbor drove up Mike Koehn’s driveway. “Can I get people together to help find you stuff?” she asked, patting him on the shoulder.
“We need a little time,” Koehn said. “This is all still kind of soaking in.”
In nearby Clark County, ranchers lost thousands of cattle, along with homes, fences and outbuildings.
There aren’t many houses or barns in the rural area between Ashland and Protection, but nearly all of the ones along U.S. 160, from east to west, and for about 15 miles north along K-34, burned down.
Along K-34, about half of the power poles were severed by fire and dangled from wires.
The occasional small calf stood by itself on the side of the road.
Smoke smoldered from lumps of what once were round bales of hay. White, and sometimes gray, smoke rose in the distance and, in certain stretches, clouded patches of road.
One of those rising columns of smoke came from a small bridge a few miles west of Protection that still burned Tuesday afternoon, part of the 360,000 acres of this county landscape devastated by fire the night before.
The expensive irrigation lines at Ashland Feeders lay in a disconnected heap as smoke rose from the ground. And a truck sat at the bottom of a garage, exposed to the highway, as the building around it was no longer there.