By Geoffrey Taylor, MA, Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
As wildfires continue to ravage the California landscape and communities statewide feel the impact of increasingly dangerous fire activity, ranchers and farmers in the southern San Joaquin Valley region from Fresno County to Kern County have experienced an unpredictable year. While wildfires are a natural component of California’s chaparral climate, fires such as the recent French Fire, and the current KNP Complex and Windy Fires, are posing an immense threat to local ranchers and agricultural producers.
“The (Windy) fire moved in fast on us,” said one unnamed Pine Flat cattle rancher dashing up Hot Springs Road outside California Hot Springs to move more cattle from his land. “I’m just trying to get my cattle out before I can’t get them out; I haven’t seen anything like this around here in a long time.”
According to Capt. Joanne Bear, Public Information Officer for the Tulare County Fire Department, an evacuation order was issued at 6:00 AM on September 24 to residents and ranchers in the Pine Flat, Posey, California Hot Springs and other surrounding communities to immediately vacate the area due to immense fire risk. “This area is heavily populated with ranchers and agricultural operations, but at this point, we cannot state the exact impact on ranchers and agriculture in the region,” Bear noted.
With a procession of fire trucks and personnel from across the state flooding into the eastern Tulare County region to assist in containing the massive Windy Fire, estimated by InciWeb at 97,554 acres and is 88 percent contained as of October 12, 2021. The KNP Complex fire outside Three Rivers currently stands at 87,467 acres and is only at 30 percent containment as of October 12, 2021. Both fires have endangered groves of majestic Sequoia trees across the region along with impacting ranchers, residents and tourism throughout the region.
“Everyone is leaving and everything is shut down, very organized exit, notified us of evac warning, packed up and left,” said Jamie Howard, a resident of the Pine Flat community in Tulare County, when asked about the impact of the fire during the mandatory evacuation of Pine Flat, “But neighbors are watching out for neighbors and everyone is helping each other as much as they can. We’re keeping up hope, there’s a lot of fire fighters out there trying to save our community from this.”
Other recent fire activity including the Walkers Fire, which consumed over 8,600 acres and is currently 99 percent contained as of October 12, 2021, along with the French Fire, which most recently threatened the ranching and farming communities of Glennville and Woody in the foothills of the Greenhorn Mountains of Kern County, which currently stands at 26,535 Acres and is 99 percent contained as of October 12, 2021.
“When the (French) fire broke out, it was on forest service land that our herd was grazing on,” said Esther Carver of Maddux-Carver Ranch, located in Glennville with grazing lands spanning the Greenhorn Mountains of Kern County, “This is our livelihood and it has been for seven generations – you can’t just replace a lost herd of cattle, these cows know the land they graze because they’ve been here generation after generation.”
Fire events in the Sierra foothills place immense stress and uncertainty on area ranchers and can spell an end to generations of hard work and knowledge of the land. For some ranchers, incidents like these can place their operations in jeopardy as unprecedented fire activity and the speed at which these fires are spreading continues to increase.
“Our family spent a lot of time trying to move our cattle out of the high risk areas, but we had to keep going back in and trying to find cows in the burned areas–the cows that somehow survived we’d coordinate a lot with fire fighters who saw animals in the proximity,” said Carver, “I think this is something that has taught our area ranchers to be on alert and be prepared, from 5 years ago with Cedar Fire and now with the French Fire.”
Carver noted the importance of advocating for additional fire prevention efforts at the State and Federal levels to ensure safe conditions for not only ranching and grazing, but for tourism, recreation and the long-term health of our national forests.
“In the midst of a devastating fire and an active emergency, you’re doing everything that you can to keep your home, your family, your community, your cattle safe,” said Carver, “This is a livelihood – it has been for seven generations – but these cows know this land and if you lose your herd to a wildfire, you can’t just replace that.”
For more information on active wildfire events in our region, please visit InciWeb.NWCG.gov/ for official information releases on all active fire events in the area. For questions or concerns about our regional forests, please visit the United States Forest Service Sequoia National Forest, Porterville Branch, at FS.USDA.gov/Main/Sequoia/.