Auction fundraiser to aid wildfire victims

Managing Editor

LaPLATA, Md. (April 11, 2017) — After the initial news reports of the wildfire damage in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas faded, a flurry of social media posts shared videos of tractor trailer convoys hauling loads of hay to the fire-ravaged areas and stories of ranchers who have lost everything, some who died trying to save their cattle.
The recovery and relief effort for the massive early March disaster continues and a growing group of Maryland farmers are helping in the effort, organizing a benefit auction of donated items from the local community.
Called the Wildfire Benefit Relief Effort and Auction, it is set for May 6, at the Charles County Fairgrounds’ main livestock building, beginning at 5 p.m.
It started with a few farming friends, talking about what they had seen about the fires and wanting to do something.
“It’s part of who we are, first, because it’s the farm community and second, as a Christian, it’s our obligation to do something,” said Brian Russell, a St. Mary’s County farmer and one of the initial organizers with David Hancock in Charles County and Ronnie Farrell, a Mechanicsville, Md., auctioneer.
Russell added his family’s farm has suffered damage from fires in the past and know firsthand the toll it can take, though it doesn’t compare to the damage from these wildfires.
“Even with help from the community and insurance, you still never economically fully recover from that,” he said.
The trio quickly mobilized their county’s Farm Bureau and soon received support from the Farm Bureaus in Calvert, Anne Arundel and Prince Georges counties.
After a few meetings and several phone calls, the growing group decided to hold a benefit auction with all the proceeds going to Clark County, Kan., one of the hardest hit areas.
In one of those early meetings, the Maryland famers connected with a group of Kansas farmers via conference call to get feedback on how best they could help.
“What they were saying is they think they have enough supplies and we’re almost ready to rebuild,” Farrell said.
Writing a check would go a lot further than organizing another shipment of hay, so the Maryland group decided on organizing an auction to raise money.
“Everyone kept saying the same thing, they didn’t realize how bad it was,” said Farrell,
“We do our share of benefit auctions, but when people hear this story, when you see someone’s livelihood just taken away completely, it moved us to action.”
In Kansas, the department of agriculture estimates between 4,000 and 8,000 animals lost to the fines.
Close to 650,000 acres were burned in the state.
Of Kansas’s 105 counties, 22 were affected by wildfires, none worse than Clark County which has had more than 400,000 acres burned, 85 percent of its pasture and grassland, according to the Kansas Farm Bureau.
In Texas, about 0.5 million acres were burned.
Texas Animal Health Commission’s Region 1 office reported 2,500 cattle and about 1,900 swine lost.
In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma forestry services recorded about 400,000 acres that burned, killing hundreds of livestock.
Combined, the wildfires scorched more acres than that of the Grand Canyon National Park.
While several other groups have signed on to help in the May 6 auction, other local farm groups have already contributed to the recovery effort.
Farrell said a week after his first conversation with Russell about the wildfires, he called a benefit auction for the Prince George’s County Young Farmers and part of those proceeds were destined for the relief effort.
On March 21, National Agriculture Day, the Maryland Farm Bureau Board of Directors voted to make contributions to the Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas Farm Bureaus for wildfire relief.
“It was an easy decision for our Board to contribute to the wildfire relief funds in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas,” said MFB president Chuck Fry. “There’s so much more we as an organization and our state’s farmers wish we could do for the farmers and ranchers in the Midwest. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been affected by the wildfires.”
In the time since deciding on the auction, Hancock said farmers and others outside of Southern Maryland have called about helping and the organizers hope word continues to spread about coming to bid, donating items for bidding or sponsoring the event.
Information on donating is available at
Hancock added 4-H, FFA and young farmer groups in Southern Maryland are also working to organize food for the event with sales or donations going toward the relief effort.
“Everybody wants to help,” he said. “Everyday there’s more and more people reaching out. It’s kind of a wide variety as far as people wanting to help and a wide variety of the items that are being donated.”
So far, items for the auction include handmade crafts, farm equipment, use of a facility for a special event, trips, event tickets, animal feed, services and experiences like riding in a combine or tractor.
Farrell said the list of items will be updated on his auction website as the come in.
One the day of the auction, preview and registration will begin at 3 p.m.