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Two ranch women play vital roles in the fight against rural fires

Whitney Klasna and Sarah Kuschel, both ranch women, help combat fires in their community. The two women have seen an influx of burn bans and prairie fires so far this year, due to the region's drought.

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Pixabay photo

Stewards of the land, farmers and ranchers tend for their soil with the utmost care. Two ranch women are going the extra mile in their vigilance toward the land, for not only their ground, but their communities’ ground as well. Whitney Klasna and Sarah Kuschel have active roles in protecting the Northern Plains from fires and the destruction that comes along with the flames.

Kuschel, a Nimrod, Minn., native, acts as a township fire warden for her community.

“As a township fire warden, one of our main roles is to help write burning permits for those in the township,” Kuschel said.

While writing these permits, she encourages the individuals to make their burn plans known to local law enforcement.

“Something that happens a lot nowadays with everybody having a cellphone is they see smoke and they call in a fire. Which is great, but sometimes a fire isn’t an emergency,” Kuschel said.

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Kuschel acts as a township fire warden for her Minnesota community. (Emily Beal / Agweek)

Due to the excessive dryness the region has been experiencing, Kuschel has not written very many burning permits, as her area currently has burning restrictions.

“In our part of Minnesota, burning has been actually on restriction most of the spring due to the early snowmelt and the dry conditions,” Kuschel said.

Klasna’s county is experiencing a burn ban as well. Klasna resides in Richland County, Mont., where she plays a crucial role in fighting fires on the prairie.

“Our county commissioners used some money to put together county satellite fire rigs to disperse amongst different land owners across the county, especially out in the more rural areas that are away from the main hub. Our family has had one of those county rural satellite rigs,” Klasna said.

The Klasnas' fire rig is a pick up with a 300-gallon water tank. Klasna is often one of the first people on the scene of the fire in her rural area.

“We are the first responders to a lot of the fires out here,” Klasna said. “We’re the initial attack people.”

Once she arrives on scene, Klasna tries to get the fire under control or maintain it while she waits for the local fire department to arrive.

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Klasna plays an important role in fighting fires in Richland County, Montana. (Contributed photo)

Klasna has been to an abundance of fires already this year due to the drought. Typically, fire season is July and August in her region, but this year it has started early. This has caused a shortage in not only resources, but energy as well.

“We have been out on a lot of fires already this year. Resources and personnel are already getting worn pretty thin,” Klasna said. “It has been exhaustive.”

For both ranch women, deciding to take on their respective roles was a family affair.

Miles Kuschel, Sarah Kuschel’s husband, had grandparents in the township fire warden role. When they decided to step down, Miles and Sarah knew that the role was important to the community and decided to take on the job themselves.

“We felt like it was a valuable piece for our township to have,” Kuschel said.

As for Klasna, she grew up going to prairie fires, and it is now a part of her lifestyle.

“I grew up going to fires in the area, so it was kind of something as a farmer and rancher that we just do,” Klasna said. “My husband, father-in-law and I would load up in a single cab pick up and go roaring to fires.”

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The drought has affected not only their roles in the area of fire, but their livelihood as well, their ranches.

“The drought we have been experiencing has definitely impacted the forage production on our ranch. We have to really tighten up hay supply at this point,” Kuschel said.

Klasna’s ranch has also been experiencing a forage shortage and is currently trying to figure out how they will manage their grass.

Both women enjoy helping their communities through these roles pertaining to fire, and while they are undoubtedly time-consuming ventures, it is an important hat they take pride in wearing.

“When you’re a farmer and rancher out on the Plains, you wear many hats and take on many roles, man or woman. Whether you are out fighting fires or helping keep the ranch going at home, they’re all important roles,” Klasna said.

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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