REPUBLIC, Wash. – In her two decades as a 4-H leader in Ferry County, Kari Neal has never seen a fire season like this. Even in 1988, with the White Mountain fire raging on nearby Sherman Pass, the Ferry County Fair went on as usual.
“The kids had sooty ash falling on their animals, which were all clean for fitting and showing,” she remembered. “We just went with it.”
This year is different. Faced with the threat of the North Star Fire, which has burned more than 200,000 acres and threatens thousands of homes, Ferry County Commissioners on Aug. 25 canceled the 72nd annual fair.
‘Surrounded by fires’
With parts of Ferry County under evacuation notice, residents in threatened areas must be ready to roll out at any time. Holding a fair just wasn’t safe, said Trevor Lane, director of Washington State University Extension for Ferry County (http://ext100.wsu.edu/ferry/).
Twenty miles to the east, the Kettle and Colville complexes have charred 73,000 acres. To the west, the Okanogan and Tunk Block complexes have burned more than a quarter-million acres in the largest wildfire in state history. Statewide, dozens of blazes have consumed more than a thousand square miles of timberland, grassland, pasture and residential areas.
“It doesn’t make sense to bring people into a county where we’re telling people to leave,” he said. “We are completely surrounded by fires.”
The Ferry County fairgrounds, which would have welcomed 4-H and FFA youth and their animals on Sept. 4, served as temporary shelter for displaced livestock before high winds forced a total evacuation.
Investment and reward
The loss of a fair could deliver a big impact on 4-H youth. Children and teens have spent the past year raising animals for market. Fair judging and sales are a culmination and a reward for youths raising cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, with greater effort meriting larger rewards.
“There’s a lot of money invested in these animals,” said Ann Fagerlie, WSU Extension director for neighboring Okanogan County (http://county.wsu.edu/okanogan/Pages/default.aspx/), where their 68th annual fair is slated to run Sept. 10-13.
“Kids who do a better job have animals that gain weight and flourish better than those who don’t,” Neal said. Those animals advance in judging and get a prime place at the weekend stock sale. “The lesson is that you get out of a project what you put into it.
“Kids could take a financial loss if the animals are sold for just the meat-packing price and don’t have the support of individuals and businesses that normally come out to support the kids and the ribbons they’ve earned” by buying the animals for meat, she said.
Market sale planned
To counteract that loss, Ferry County Extension officials have organized a 4-H Market Sale for Ferry County and Colville Reservation 4-H members at 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, at the Northeast Washington Fair Grounds in Colville, Wash.
It takes place the same day that 4-H youth would have held their fair sale. Lane encourages business owners, organizations and 4-H supporters to attend and ensure youth get a fair price for their animals.
Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/wsu.ferrycounty.
“We’re doing it because time is of the essence,” Lane said. “These kids may not have the resources to continue to support these animals.”
The sale is also a morale booster, providing “a sense of normalcy,” in a very stressful season, he said.
Other 4-H programs canceled
4-H members may be able to attend other fairs outside the area, but time is short, distance is a challenge and the fires continue to burn.
“It’s hard to shift gears because so many of our families have parents who are involved with the firefighting efforts,” Neal said.
While WSU Extension staff managed to hold some pre-fair activities before the emergency, including a fashion show and performing arts judging, other outreach events, including a tractor-driving competition and food preservation classes, were called off.
“With people displaced from their homes, focusing on the safety of reservation residents is the most important role for us right now,” said Linda McLean, director of 4-H programs at WSU Colville Reservation Extension (http://native.wsu.edu/tribal-liaison/news/april2013/colville.html).
With roads closed, some livestock owners are unable to get to their cattle on rangeland or bring them salt or water. Efforts are underway throughout Ferry and Okanogan counties to provide feed and forage for livestock whose owners who had pastures, haystacks and supplies burn.
“Many people have lost animals, lost everything they were going to put into the fair,” said Lanie Johns, clerk of the Board for Okanogan County.
State 4-H taking donations
The Washington State 4-H Foundation is taking donations to support 4-H clubs and families affected by wildfires.
Contributions pay for members’ loss of club supplies, project materials or livestock projects. An application is being designed and will be available online soon for the families and clubs to submit a request for contributed funds.
Learn more at http://www.4h.wsu.edu/foundation.
4-H leader Brenda Nee’s son is happy to keep his market goat: “What he will miss is the fair itself and being able to be a kid,” Nee said.
“Lives of people and animals matter,” she said. “My son isn’t in 4-H for the money. He enjoys going to the fair and raising his animals.
“I’ve made this into a life lesson that things don’t always go as planned,” she said.