July 7, 2006
By Bobby Horecka
Texas A&M students Kevin Weatherford, Barry Morris, Robert Hall, Daniel Caldwell and Bobby Reynoso gather up for a "Gig 'Em" during one of the final days of helping ranchers clear their land in wake of the wildfires.
Texas A&M junior Kevin Weatherford didn't mince words when asked why he joined about two dozen fellow Aggies in May to help tear down fences left charred by wildfires.
"We came to help people out," he said. "They lost a lot and we thought we could help them out."
And for two weeks, that's exactly what they did, clearing fences and barns laid waste by what fire officials later called the single worst wildfire in state history.
"There's really no way we can track it all, but I think they did that and then some," said Ricky Martin with the Gray-Roberts County Farm Bureau office in Pampa.
Martin teamed up with a fellow Aggie named James Fuqua from Quannah to help make the student relief effort a reality. Together, they spread the word around College Station, coordinated work schedules and equipment and manned the logistics of the large undertaking.
"It looks to be a remarkable success," Martin said in the final days of the Aggie cleanup. "I'm just glad I got to be a part of it in some small way."
And the youngsters who showed up to help in May weren't the only ones to give of themselves.
"It was as if all of agriculture stepped up to help out," said Texas Farm Bureau State Director Billy Bob Brown. "Help came from coast to coast, from donating time and feed to opening their pocketbooks to help rebuild and restructure the many lives affected."
TFB members alone helped raise in excess of $180,770 in cash donations, not to mention shipping tons of hay, range cubes and fencing materials to those left devastated by the fires. More than 1,000 square miles of land were consumed by the blaze, which claimed 12 lives, dozens of homes and outbuildings and thousands of head of livestock.
To assist in the aftermath, cowboy crooner Michael Martin Murphey, a TFB member, headed up several benefit concerts in the area to assist those in need. His main billing at the Amarillo Globe Center over Easter weekend alone helped raise roughly $80,000 for the wildfire victims. Additional performances also helped replenish coffers of area volunteer fire departments.
"The amount we have to pay forward will be tremendous," said rancher Lane Thompson, who was left with more than 500 dead cattle and 10,000 of his 12,000 acres scorched.
"This was so big and so fast many of us lost most everything overnight. But it was just amazing to see all of the generosity from everyone when everything was said and done. There are definitely some angels out there," he said.
Rancher Jeff Haley, who lost some 12,000 of his 15,000-acre place, agreed.
"I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart," Haley said. "Not only for the feed and hay and labor, but for all their thoughts and generosity that we have seen since all this happened. It really lifts the human spirit to see so many others doing what they can for you at times like these."
While the ranches may be years from replenished, green pastures show the healing process has definitely begun.
"It'll probably come back better than it ever was," Brown said.
"But it makes you proud to be part of an organization that has the foresight to get in there and get things done," Martin added.