Clark Co. ranchers pay it forward to Montana fire victims

Six months ago, Clark County rancher Steve Hazen was on the receiving end as truckloads of hay and supplies came from all directions to his hometown of Ashland.

Now he and others along the southern Kansas border where more than 500,000 acres burned during the March Starbuck Fire are returning the kindness.

With fires still raging in Montana, Hazen and four others from the area drove a thousand miles to deliver alfalfa and wire to two ranches near Sand Springs, Montana – one hit by the wildfire, another hurt by severe drought.

“Pay it forward – that is exactly what we were doing,” said Hazen, who lost pasture and fencing in the Starbuck Fire that swept through the county March 6.

After all, he said, with all the help that America gave him and others in the wake of their own natural disaster, it is their turn to lend a hand.

The “ashes to ashes” project comes as ranchers in Meade, Clark and Comanche counties continue their efforts to rebuild, said Bernie Smith, a rancher from just across the Oklahoma border who lost 150 cows, 65 calves and miles of fences after Starbuck.

The project started when Smith’s two boys – Blake and Levi – took a load of hay to Montana in mid-August.

“We didn’t advertise it much at first, but when people found out what we had done, everyone wanted to help,” Smith said.

In all, nearly 40 people donated money and supplies for a second trip north. Friday morning, Levi and Blake, along with Mark Berends, Hoisington, and his father, Verlyn, of Buffalo, Oklahoma, loaded up two semis with alfalfa and a truck pulling a gooseneck trailer with wire. They met Hazen, who had picked up a truckload of hay in North Platte, Nebraska, and convoyed north.

American flags hung from the front of the semis. The rear had a banner telling of the trip from “Clark County Kansas to Montana.” Smith said his ranch received supplies in March from the same area they were helping.

(Read more: Kansas Agland – The Garden City Telegram)