Oklahoma wildfires kill hundreds of cattle, blacken pastures

Wildfires in Oklahoma have done tremendous harm to the state’s agricultural capacities. (Reuters pic)

OKLAHOMA CITY: Wind-driven wildfires that began in mid-April, fuelled by severe drought, have killed hundreds of cattle and destroyed more than 130,000 hectares in Oklahoma, authorities said on Monday.

Oklahoma has been grappling with several wildfires this month, including the Rhea Fire in the western part of the state.

Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallin, recently issued a state of emergency for 52 counties due to the wildfires that blackened close to 140,000 hectares – an area roughly equal to half the size of Rhode Island.

Oklahoma is the nation’s fifth-largest cattle-producing state with more than 5 million head. While cattle losses were devastating for affected ranchers, overall livestock prices should not be affected, said economists and state officials.

Rod Hall, Oklahoma state veterinarian, put preliminary cattle deaths at roughly 1,100 head and expects that number could eventually climb to around 2,000.

“We’ll never know the exact number, and people are also still finding dead animals,” Hall said in an interview, adding that recent rains helped contain most of the blazes.

Some cattle died directly from the fires while others were later euthanised due to injuries or smoke inhalation, he said.

Many Oklahoma pastures had not received adequate moisture for more than 200 days. Animals in these areas were caught off-guard when flames were fanned by winds of up to 100 kilometres per hour.

Some of the land destroyed was much-needed grazing land for cattle, state officials said.

The ranchers’ most immediate need is hay to feed their cattle, said Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association.

Hay inventories were already low in the wake of last year’s wildfires and an unusually long, cold, and dry winter, he said.