Community offers outpouring of support for Panhandle fire victims


The Smokehouse Creek Fire continues to devastate portions of the Texas Panhandle, consuming more than 1 million acres and claiming the lives of scores of livestock and at least one first responder.

Knowing the great need that exists for their fellow Texans, Gonzales County residents have been extremely generous in donating necessary items as well as money for those most impacted by wildfires.

The disaster especially hits close to home for Ricky and Kelly Lester, owners of the Lester Ranch, who donated the use of their truck and trailer to haul not one, but two loads so far to the Panhandle.

Kelly Lester’s brother, Kyle Miller, is not only a Gonzales High School graduate but also the Hemphill County Attorney in Canadian, where some of the greatest destruction from the Smokehouse Creek Fire can be found.

“We’ve had so many Gonzales people really outpouring their love to everyone that has been affected,” Ricky Lester said Tuesday, March 5. “The people of Gonzales have gone overboard when it comes to giving and we’re getting load No. 2 ready to go right now at Fehner & Son. We’re in the cattle business and we understand that when devastation like that comes, people need help.”

Donations came pouring in on Thursday, Feb. 29, right before the start of the Gonzales County Youth Stock Show, which was being held right across from Fehner & Son Grain Co. at the J.B. Wells Arena, and continued throughout the weekend and into this week.

The first truck left for the Panhandle on Sunday, March 3, with 14 pallets of cubes; four pallets of Creep; two pallets of T-posts; a pallet of wire; four pallets of horse feed; seven bags of salt meal; 15 bags of sheep and goat feed; two pallets of water; plus vet supplies, cloths, fencing supplies, milk replacement, dog food, wound care, vet wrap, cattle bottles and even $3,900 in cash donations.

Ricky Lester said his daughter, Loni Kay Yates (phone 830-857-6249), has been in contact with relief coordinators in Canadian and Miami and was taking donations through Venmo and using it to purchase additional supplies if necessary.

Fehner & Son was also accepting purchases of supplies made on behalf of the fire victims that can be donated by contacting the store. The Gonzales County 4-H office at 623 N. Fair St. has also been accepting donations on behalf of fire victims.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller expressed “deep concern for the affected communities and the agricultural impact,” noting the Panhandle region “is facing significant losses, impacting farmers and ranchers profoundly.” According to Miller, the Smokehouse Creek Fire is the largest recorded in Texas at more than 1,075,000 acres; the second largest fire in the nation’s history; and is larger than the top 20 largest wildfires in California over the past 90 years.

“I pledge my ongoing support for our neighbors who have a long road ahead to recovery from this disaster,” Commissioner Miller said. “I know of ranchers who have lost everything. Our agency will continue its efforts to do everything we can through our STAR Fund, AgriStress Helpline, Hay Hotline, and by partnering with other agencies to lend a helping hand.

“Cattle and crop losses in the Panhandle are significant and infrastructure damage is catastrophic. Even those Texans fortunate enough to save their herd may not have anything to return to but ashes. The path forward as an agricultural operation is unclear without home and belongings. Hemphill County has reported over a thousand missing or dead cattle and several dead horses, goats, and sheep. Numbers in Hemphill County and other impacted areas are expected to rise as the smoldering fire subsides and assessment can be conducted.”

Miller also mourned the death of Fritch Fire Chief Zeb Smith, who “made the ultimate sacrifice while battling to contain the devastation plaguing our community.”

“Amidst the destruction of hundreds of miles of fencing, numerous structures, and the tragic loss of over 6000 cattle, our first responders have shown remarkable bravery in their efforts to protect lives,” Miller said. “Thanks to their unwavering courage, they have managed to prevent even greater loss of life during this unprecedented disaster. Today, as we mourn the loss of Chief Smith, let us honor his bravery and the selflessness of all our emergency personnel who continue to risk their lives to keep us safe."

Miller praised the generosity of Texans all over the state, including those in Gonzales County, for stepping up to “donate hay and feed resources, to support emergency responder needs, and provide transportation to haul livestock and hay as needed.”

“I am immensely grateful for the unity and generosity shown by Texans during this challenging time,” Commissioner Miller said. “The unwavering support and assistance I’ve witnessed is a testament to the strength of our state. I extend my heartfelt appreciation to the emergency personnel and all those who have selflessly united to aid those affected by the wildfires.”

The state has temporarily suspended oversize/overweight permitting requirements for vehicles and loads associated with activities necessary to respond to the disaster and has set up livestock supply points. Additionally, the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) has facilitated a waiver of animal movement documentation for livestock producers because of the 2024 Texas Panhandle wildfire.