Ranchers in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas are returning homes to survey the damage from the wildfires that were fuelled by tinder-dry vegetation and ferocious winds.
One fire, in Lipscomb, Texas burned through nearly all 1,000 acres of the Schwerzenbach family's remote ranch, killing some 40 cattle. A mile away, a young man in the rural community was killed. Speaking to Reuters photographer Lucas Jackson, who has closely documented the aftermath of the fires, Nancy Schwerzenbach spoke of how quickly the situation escalated "We had a minute or two and then it was over us," she said "The fire was about two miles away before we knew what happened to us."
The fire, moving up to 70 miles per hour (112 kph), was one of several across more than 2 million acres (810,000 hectares) that hit the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas last week, causing millions of dollars of damage and killing thousands of livestock. Numerous smaller fires burned in Colorado, Nebraska and the Florida Everglades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In Oklahoma, the fires scorched a Smithfield Foods Inc hog farm in Laverne, killing some 4,300 sows. "When we drive down the road and look out on the pasture lands, there's no grass. There's dead deer, dead cows, dead wildlife, miles of fence gone away. It looks like a complete desert," Ashland Veterinary Center co-owner Dr Randall Spare – who is helping in relief efforts in Clark County, Kansas – told Jackson.
Oklahoma Department of Agriculture State Veterinarian Rod Hall said bulldozers were being used to bury dead animals. In Texas, state government agencies estimate about 1,500 cattle were lost, according to Steve Amosson, an economist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. "When we value the deaths of cattle at market value, including disposal costs, we're talking about $2.1m at this point, and I expect that to go up," he told Jackson. "We're still dealing with chaos, they're still trying to find cattle."
For Troy Bryant, 34, a rancher in Laverne, Oklahoma, the impact from the fires has been devastating. He explained to Jackson how he lost livestock worth roughly $35,000 and fencing worth about $40,000. "We saw 4,000 acres burned here. Some places further west of here lost much more," he said.
Amosson estimates it could cost $6m to recover 480,000 acres burned in Texas fires along with $4.3m to replace and repair fences in the northern Texas Panhandle either destroyed by the fire or by cattle trampling them to escape the blaze. Texas is the top US cattle producing state with some 12.3 million head and Kansas is third at 6.4 million.
Local farmers from the Great Plains have helped those who have been affected by the wildfires by donating hay and fencing material.