By choice, I’ve never called anywhere but Wyoming home. I’ve traveled to other places I enjoy, but always look forward to returning to the Cowboy State. I don’t know that it’s better, but in my biased opinion it ranks at the top. Spending the bulk of my life in northeast Wyoming, I have a special fondness for the Black Hills and the people who live here. It’s a place where, for the most part, neighbors still help neighbors and communities pull together during tough times.
That was especially true in the Newcastle area late June and early July as the Oil Creek Fire consumed over 60,000 acres, including grass important to area ranchers, fences and other infrastructure that will need to be rebuilt. It’s a scenario that’s played out across Wyoming and the West this summer. Amidst the devastation, the stories of good will, kindness and people just generally doing the right thing are a bright spot.
As the fire broke out here on June 29, one of the gentlemen who lives near where it started went to get a closer look and report it to local fire officials. When he returned home he found that one of his neighbors already at his house gathering cattle and hauling them out of harm’s way. It’s people like that, often stepping forward to help a neighbor without even being asked, who make Wyoming special.
Numerous homes exist within the area impacted by this summer’s Oil Creek Fire. Local firefighters are to be commended for their efforts protecting these structures without a single home lost to the fire. Not only did firefighters from our local agencies respond to the fire, but others from across the region also came to help. Many of them are volunteer firefighters and their presence in the community made a positive difference. They didn’t have to help, but they did.
We live about 30 miles west of the area impacted by this summer’s wildfires, but our cattle spend the summer and part of the fall there, the exact timing determined by Mother Nature. Come to think of it, she makes a lot of decisions on our behalf!
On the Sunday after the fire started, given the direction it was moving, we gathered our cattle to ensure they were all accounted for and ready to move if necessary. We were hoping that wouldn’t be the case, but as Sunday progressed into Tuesday we felt the need to move out. The problem was we couldn’t get to the corrals we typically use to come and go. After three long days, our crew wasn’t jumping at a portable panel-packing project!
Again neighbors stepped forward and lent a helping hand. After the Rossman, Farrella and Merrill families were done gathering and working their own cattle, they opened their corrals and helped us sort ours and load them on trucks. Truckers who’d already spent numerous hours behind the wheel took on one more load, which we also appreciated.
In the hills, thanks to recent rains, there are signs of grass returning. Fences are being cussed and discussed, erosion mitigation is underway and Wyomingites are pulling together to clean up and carry on. Amidst the challenges there truly are bright spots like fully appreciating the value of family, good friends and neighbors.
Jennifer Vineyard Womack is executive director of the Wyoming FFA Foundation and a freelance writer. She can be reached at Womack@Wyoming.com or at 307-351-0730.