LOMA, Colo.- A Loma rancher is speaking out about a nerve wracking time she and her family had evacuating over 140 cows from grazing lands hit by the Pine Gulch Fire in August.
The fire destroyed thousands of acres Bureau of Land Management land used for cattle grazing.
Megan Cassidy and her family specialize in breeding cattle and raising calves. They had over 24,000 acres of grazing land on the southwest portion of the Pine Gulch Fire, which is now part of the vast area of charred landscape. Normally, Cassidy’s cattle would graze on BLM land from June until October, but that was cut short because of the fire.
“There was actually one morning we woke up and we couldn’t see the entire mountainside,” Cassidy said “And my husband and I said ‘something’s up we better go up there.'”
Cassidy and her family had been monitoring the fire since it broke out on July 31, but after two weeks, it got to close to their cattle for comfort. One that day Cassidy and her husband noticed the smoke was particularly bad, they headed up into the Bookcliffs off 16 Road in north Mesa County to check on their land. They quickly realized a fire had started in the middle of their cattle’s grazing area which is over 20,000 acres.
“The day that it hit, our hearts just stopped because it was so surreal,” Cassidy said “That next morning when we went back up to see what the damage had done overnight, we didn’t expect to see what we did.”
What happened next was two weeks of moving cattle down from higher elevations to an area where they could be hauled back to their family ranch in Loma. Cassidy says while the flames were close, the cows were miraculously able to stay ahead of some of the flames.
“Where the fire started was the canyon where we typically push them down through into our corrals,” Cassidy said. “With the wildlife fire crews coming up the road there was no way for a cow to get past a car if we pushed them down there.”
For those cows, Megan says wildfire crews did a great job of building a secure fire line, preventing the flames from reaching the cattle. Cassidy says each cow is worth $1,500 to $3,000. Had she and her family not acted when they did, the financial damage could’ve been devastating.
“Monetary you’re talking about quite an investment that you have the potential to lose due to a wildfire,” she said. “But not only that, it’s devastating when you do lose a life.”
Cassidy says she knows other ranchers who lost cattle to the fire, and says it easily could’ve been her. And while she’s now taking on an added expense of having to grow and buy extra hay to feed the cattle because they came off the BLM land early this year, there’s a silver lining to it all.
“They’re all healthy. We don’t have any respiratory issues with them,” Cassidy said. “That’s something that you would expect to find with livestock being up in the smoke zone like they were.”
Cassidy adds, the land that was burned by the Pine Gulch Fire won’t be able to be grazed again for at least the next several years. She’s currently reevaluating her ranching business, and working with the BLM on new free-range grazing options.