Only one thing could come close to matching the speed of the fearsome Taylor Creek wildfire racing across Kittitas County: the flood of volunteers from this ranching community who came to the aid of livestock fleeing the fire.
ELLENSBURG — Only one thing could come close to matching the speed of the fearsome wildfire racing across Kittitas County: the flood of volunteers from this ranching community who came to the aid of livestock fleeing the Taylor Creek fire.
Not long after staff members opened the gates Monday night, the Ellensburg Rodeo Grounds were inundated by more than 150 volunteers — grandmas, kids, college students, veterinarians, feed-store employees — asking what they could do to help.
“The biggest problem I had [Monday] night was getting some people to go home,” said Mark Kinsel, a local veterinarian and livestock emergency-response committee member. “It takes a disaster sometimes to bring a community together.”
Despite the rapid response, the fire already has proved deadly to livestock. “Hundreds, maybe in the thousands” of animals already had perished in the fire — mostly cattle, he said Tuesday afternoon.
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His voice lowered. “They get trapped up against a fence, they’ve got nowhere to go.”
The full toll won’t be known for days.
“The fire was moving so fast, a lot of people didn’t have time to trailer up their livestock,” Kinsel said. “They had to just cut fences and let them fend for themselves.”
But plans long in place for such disasters are proving effective here.
As many as half of the 110 animals being cared for on the grounds Tuesday had been picked up running loose. Staff members were setting up a Facebook page to help match livestock to their owners. The state’s director of cattle brands also lives in Ellensburg, and is working to match orphaned animals marked by a brand to their owners, Kinsel said.
Veterinarians remain on call to treat what is expected to be a large number of livestock arriving with burns, fence cuts or other injuries as fire crews work their way into more burned areas.
The grounds that normally play host to festive livestock events such as rodeos turned into a sort of animal-welfare traffic control center. At a table under a kiosk near livestock pens, volunteers manned mobile phones, clipboards and a laptop, helping match ranchers in need with others who have called in to offer pasture land or trucks and livestock trailers.
“OK, you say you’ve got 30 sheep?” one volunteer asked into a phone. “Oh, they’re goats? It can be hard to tell if they’re in a trailer.”
Nearby, a forklift sat ready to unload a tractor-trailer full of hay, donated by a local feed store. Other volunteers unpacked cases of water and ice for volunteers working in 92-degree heat as the smell of burning sage wafted through the city.
Nearby, a crewcab pickup full of ranch hands, their shirts and hats soaked through with sweat, prepared to unload a large livestock trailer full of cattle — the ones that escaped the flames when the fire swept across their ranch at speeds estimated at 30 mph.
“I’ve got another four still out there,” one of them said. “They’re branded. I’ll find them later.”
The 110 animals, ranging from turkeys to horses, had been logged into the Rodeo Grounds emergency center by 2 p.m. Tuesday. There’s room for at least that many more, said Matt Anderson, the facilities director. After that, coordinators will farm the animals out to local ranches donating acreage.
Volunteers practically overwhelmed the rodeo grounds when word of the fire spread Monday, Kinsel said.
“It was beautiful,” said Ellensburg resident Valerie Scott, who waited to fill the four-hour volunteer shifts established by rodeo grounds operators. “The horses were unusually calm. And people just pulled together and did their jobs.”
Ron Judd: 206-464-8280 or firstname.lastname@example.org