Mark Gardiner
Mark Gardiner: ‘Those were probably some of the worst conditions that could have ever occurred.’ (Photo: Courtesy of Angus Media)

Mark Gardiner, a fourth generation Kansas cattle rancher, is no stranger to wildfires.

Gardiner: “I’ve seen them every year of my life.”

But the fire that swept through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas this March was extreme. Nearly 40,000 acres on the Gardiner family ranch burned, and the fire killed about 500 cattle.

He says an unlucky combination of factors was to blame. A rainy summer last year meant lots of grass had grown. Over the winter there was little rain or snow, so it all dried out. Add sixty-mile-an-hour winds and low humidity to the equation, and …

Gardiner: “Those were probably some of the worst conditions that could have ever occurred. Most likely, power lines got to whippin’ in the wind and that sparked and that started the fire.”

Fires like this can be expensive and deadly, and scientists fear they could become more common in the Southern Plains states. A U.S. Forest Service report says warming temperatures and drought may increase the vulnerability to wildfire on grazing lands.

That could mean more hardships for ranchers and ranching communities. For now, the Gardiners are focused on getting back on their feet.

Gardiner: “None of us are going away. This is what we do.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Samantha Harrington

Samantha Harrington, director of audience experience for Yale Climate Connections, is a journalist and graphic designer with a background in digital media and entrepreneurship. Sam is especially interested...