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Jun 20, 2011 8:53 PM by Matt Stafford

Cowboys save the ranch from wildfire

"I mean we've fought lightning strikes and fires all our lives, but I've never seen anything this big," says Kelly Bader, a Las Animas County rancher, describing the Shell Fire that consumed eight to ten-thousand acres of his land last week.

"It doesn't look anything like a fire, but like somebody dropped a nuclear bomb on us," says Kelly's son, Ira Bader.

The outcome could have been much worse; the Baders say crews came to help, but in the end they were left to fend for themselves to try and save their ranch.

The area that the Baders live is in unincorporated areas of Las Animas County; they aren't in a fire protection district. When the Shell Fire broke out, neighboring districts, like La Junta, responded initially to help.

"There was no one in command at the time at my arrival so command was established, but under state statute the Sheriff is responsible for mitigating wildfire in unincorporated parts," says La Junta Fire Chief Aaron Eveatt, however he says there was never a written declaration sending control to another agency.

Sheriff James Casias says their wildfire fighting resources have been stretched thin, and they were looking for more at the time.

"Our resources were geared at other fires that we we're having at the same time. I'm caring about the structures and the people and the fire fighters. If a tree burns, grass burns, as long as no body gets hurt and I don't put anybody at risk that's what it's going to be," says Sheriff Casias.

It wasn't an issue while neighboring agencies were able to volunteer assistance, but when those crews had to tend to their own districts it caused a problem for the Baders.

"A lot of those resources were being requested back to their fire districts," says Chief Eveatt. This is when the Baders see the flames coming towards their home.

"You had an option, I guess the way it was; you could either watch it all burn or you could put it out, so we put it out." Ira Bader, Rancher

"Joe Blundell, Terry and Casey Everett stayed here and helped us," says a thankful Kelly Bader. "We manned this whole line. That was our decision that we weren't going to let it move any further if we could stop it."

They did stop it; setting fire lines and hauling water to douse the flames.

"We couldn't have done it, just the two of us, but five of us did," says Kelly Bader.

Chief Eveatt from La Junta says there were more people fighting the Shell Fire; volunteer crews from Kim and ranchers, 38 people altogether helped.

More crews from the Sheriff's Office were able to be directed at the end of fighting the Shell Fire. As for saving of the Bader home, looking back, those ranchers know what they were faced with and how they responded.

"It was going to get our house, but we stopped it. It didn't go any further," says Kelly Bader.

They don't want to have to deal with it again, but if they have to they'll be ready. However, the nightmare isn't over for the Baders; the land that was burned was intended to feed their 300 cattle. Now that it's gone the Baders will have to figure out something, but whether that's shipping the cattle to another pasture or hauling in feed it will be expensive. They don't even need to see the last six months of the year and they already know this will be a bad one for business.

Both Sheriff Casias and Chief Eveatt say they system for allocating resources in an emergency could use some tweaking. Sheriff Casias says we need to cut down on the amount of "hoops" officials have to jump through to receive emergency assistance.

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