Steamboat Springs Hayden trucker Donnie Hayes says he knows what hell looks like following a trip he took this week to deliver hay to ranches ravaged by wildfires in southern Kansas.
“It’s pure and utter devastation down there,” Hayes said of the area. “You drive by farmhouses, and that fire was so hot that everything is gone. Refrigerators. Washers. Dryers. Stoves. They’re all gone. Just dust.”
Hayes described other grim scenes of devastation, including piles of dead cattle stuck at the end of fence posts and mile upon mile of blackened earth that more closely resembled a moonscape.
Over the radio in his semi-truck, he had heard 85 percent of a Kansas county he drove through had been burnt, and ranchers were still calculating how much of their livestock and property had been lost.
“We might complain about having to shovel snow and deal with mud season, but what those ranchers are dealing with right now, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” Hayes said.
Hayes and a group of Routt County ranchers brought some relief to the devastated area in the form of 15 tons of donated hay.
Kyle Monger started putting together the humanitarian mission when he heard that a friend he met through a college roommate had lost most of his ranch 5 miles outside Ashland, Kansas.
The Monger family donated 15 tons, or about $1,500 worth of hay, and Monger spearheaded a fundraising effort to pay for enough fuel to send Hayes to Kansas and back.
Within two days, Monger said, checks from as far away as Nebraska started coming in.
The hay was delivered to the Wilson family this week on the back of Hayes’ semi-truck.
“I was kind of zoning all day yesterday coming home, just thinking about the devastation and the loss,” Hayes said.
Hayes said the family he delivered the hay to had lost everything except their vehicles, the clothes on their backs and some cattle that sought refuge in a pond as fire engulfed everything around them.
“This family is trying to look at the bright side,” Hayes said. “Their houses and equipment were insured. They’re awful somber, but they’re feeling the gratitude.”
Monger said he thought it would be a cool gesture to organize the trip, and he was grateful for the quick response he got from the local ranching community.
“My main thing in this whole deal is just ranchers helping ranchers,” Monger said. “We know how tough it is to do what we do, even when everything is going right. So when something devastating, like a fire, takes everything, we just wanted to do something to help out. I’m sure he’d do the same for us.”
Monger's father, Doug Monger, said he was proud of his son for thinking of his fellow ranchers and organizing the effort.
“It’s a great thing," Doug Monger said. “Not that you get things back from this, but hopefully, its good will for yourself.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10