(Reuters) - Wind-driven wildfires that began in mid-April, fueled by severe drought, have killed hundreds of cattle and destroyed more than 300,000 acres in Oklahoma, authorities said on Monday.
Oklahoma has been grappling with several wildfires this month, including the Rhea Fire in the western part of the state.
Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallin, recently issued a state of emergency for 52 counties due to the wildfires that blackened close to 350,000 total acres - an area roughly equal to half the size of Rhode Island.
Oklahoma is the nation’s fifth-largest cattle producing state with more than 5 million head. While cattle losses were devastating for affected ranchers, overall livestock prices should not be affected, said economists and state officials.
Rod Hall, Oklahoma state veterinarian, put preliminary cattle deaths at roughly 1,100 head and expects that number could eventually climb to around 2,000.
“We’ll never know the exact number and people are also still finding dead animals,” Hall said in an interview, adding that recent rains helped contain most of the blazes.
Some cattle died directly from the fires while others were later euthanized due to injuries or smoke inhalation, he said.
Many Oklahoma pastures had not received adequate moisture for more than 200 days. Animals in these areas were caught off-guard when flames were fanned by winds of up to 60 miles per hour (97 km per hour).
Some of the acres destroyed were much-needed grazing land for cattle, state officials said.
The ranchers’ most immediate need is hay to feed their cattle, said Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association.
Hay inventories were already low in the wake of last year’s wildfires and an unusually long, cold and dry winter, he said.
Reporting by Theopolis Waters in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis