Kansas fire victim keeps hope as flames surround him

PARADISE, Kan. (KSNW) – Faith and Hope. That’s what a Kansas woman said she clung to as she watched a forest fire in December destroy her home and livelihood.

“I could see flames coming out of our house and our show barn that we were in,” said Stephanie Dickerson.

Dickerson is a fifth generation farmer. She and her family own and operate Bar S Ranch, an Angus, Red Angus and Charolais breeder, in Paradise, Kan.

A view of Bar S Ranch after the December 15 fire.

“We have three boys. Two of them are sort of back to the ranch full time mainly, so they would be the 6th generation on our farm and our ranch, ”Dickerson explained.

All these generations of hard work and memories remain in Dickerson’s mind and heart. However, most of his family’s land, buildings, and much of their livestock did not survive the December 15 four-county fire. Dickerson remembers that day vividly.

“It was pretty scary. It was really strange that day. I told my husband that I had never been near something that was so windy, ”she said.

The moments leading up to the fire

Dickerson was working with some of his show cattle in the ranch barn when a neighbor called. She told the neighbor and asked if she could help put their horses in a safe place because the fire was approaching their property.

She, her husband, one of her sons and her son’s roommate walked the 8 miles to their neighbor’s house.

Video of the interior of Dickerson’s truck as the fire surrounded it.

“When we got there, fire was all over their house and barns. They went out. They said, “You have to go home, go home,” Dickerson explained. “So we started to turn back. As we did, the wind picked up, picked up the truck and trailer my husband and son were driving and knocked them over.

The two, unharmed, got out of the truck and got into Dickerson’s vehicle.

“As we were leaving, there were flames in front of us. We turned around. Behind us was a tank truck, a fire engine tanker over there. There were flames behind the tanker, ”Dickerson said. “Basically we just took the ditch, went through the flames to get out of there.”

The four then picked up a nearby friend and neighbor whose house was also on the way to the fire. Their next stop was their home to try and save some of their pets.

“We were going to head west because that’s where we thought the fire had already been. A fire engine stopped us and said, ‘no, you can’t go west’. We tried to go south. We couldn’t go south. We couldn’t go back east. This was where we came from. There was no road north so we were pretty much trapped, ”Dickerson said.

Dickerson and his four passengers then followed a pair of fire engines and a tanker through the middle of a wheat field.

“We all got together,” she said. “The tanker poured water on us as the fire burned on us.”

Once the fire had passed, the group finally returned home. By this time, their house was in flames.

“My three corgis were in my house. My house was completely gone. There was nothing we could do. Three of our vehicles were there. They were badly burned, ”she said.

The fire also destroyed the main headquarters of the ranch. It was the house his great-great-grandfather had built and where his great-grandfather was born.

“The first few days, was it hard to think about what we were going to do? Are we going to rebuild? Are we going to continue? Dickerson told KSN. “But that was just a passing thought because my great-grandfather came from Germany when he was 12. He was a stonemason, and he made money to bring the rest of his life. family and all that, so we’re resilient and so we never, after that first fleeting thought that everything was fine, we’re going to rebuild.

Kansans helps Kansans

The days following the Four County fire were filled with volunteers and a wave of support.

“We have had hundreds of people show up in person,” Dickerson said. “Donations of food, clothes, money donations from people we didn’t even know, some of them, but they just felt compelled to help us.”

Over a dozen students at Valley Heights High School FFA have decided to spend part of their Christmas vacation helping Dickerson and his family.

Valley Heights FFA students volunteering at Bar S Ranch

“I arrived at school the next day to tell the children what had happened there and how it had affected the people we knew and they really wanted to help somehow,” said said Drew Obermeyer, Valley Heights FFA teacher.

Obermeyer, who is friends with Dickerson, said he wasn’t surprised his students were ready to lend a helping hand.

“They give of their time and energy and they’re busy, you know we’re a little school and the kids are involved in everything, but we have real leaders here, and they really want to support and do things for them. generosity is often unmatched, ”he said.

FFA students traveled approximately six hours to and from their high school to volunteer. At the ranch, they helped tear down about 5 miles of burnt fences.

“The fence, the heat got so intense you could just touch them with your pliers and it would snap. It was terrible. I couldn’t imagine if this was my personal ranch, ”said Caleb Hornkohl, senior member of Valley Heights and FFA member.

Hornkohl and fellow FFA member Braylee Fritzson said that while the volunteer work was somewhat tedious, they would do it again.

“When we went out and saw the smiles on their faces (Dickerson and his family) it really brightened up your day, and you just couldn’t imagine how happy you could be,” said Fritzson.

“They (the beneficiaries) are really grateful for that and just the smile on their face once you help them. Their smile is priceless, ”said Hornkohl.

Kansas farmer and rancher Ryan Ketter also witnessed that priceless smile. He carried nearly 300 bales of hay to those affected by the fires.

One of nine charges Ketter took to set the victims on fire.

“My brother and I decided to give the fire victims a load of hay and then the rumor spread that we were hauling hay there, so anyway, it went from there and oh, about 10 other farmers donated hay, and they also donated money for fuel, which was very, very nice, ”Ketter said.

Ketter, who lives in Tipton, transported nine loads to needy farmers within days. Hay is especially needed at this time of year, as much of the grass has been burnt or has fallen dormant due to the cold temperatures.

“They are very grateful, and I know if the shoe was on the other foot they would do the same,” he said.

“We will never be able to repay the generosity, the manpower that came to help us, the donation of vehicles to drive, the people who took in our cattle when they already had their resources exhausted,” Dickerson mentioned. “There are just no words to say how grateful we are.”

Dickerson and her husband currently live in a neighbor’s house as they work to rebuild what they lost in the fires.

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