ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Just days ago, Buffalo Mountain Ranch south of Abilene had breathtaking views and beautiful wildlife, but now it has been hit hard by the Mesquite Heat Fire.
Heading south of Abilene on Highway 277, you approach Buffalo Mountain Ranch through winding turns of full, green mesquite and cedar trees. Their tall game fences begin to appear from below the tree line you make catch a glimpse of one of their bison or elk roaming the 4,500 acre property.
But as of Tuesday evening, the dark, billowing smoke clouds cover the lush rolling hills as the Mesquite Heat fires take over the canyons and hills just off of the highway.
H.J. Ledbetter bought the property in 1976, starting his family-owned hunting ranch. Just months after he purchased the land, a fire struck their property. Fire again hit their property just a few years later. Now, the Mesquite Heat have laid claim for a third time, the worst of all three, Ledbetter said.
“As we were driving around, there was nothing but flames all around us.” Ledbetter said, “It [the fire] was driven across us in like an hour and a half, maybe not even that long, from fence to fence. It went through us like a tornado.”
Ledbetter said he believes nearly a quarter of their property has seen damage by the fires, as flames taller than the trees ripped through the center of their property.
Ledbetter said it looked like a barren wasteland, and the scenic views of green turned into a dark, grey sea. But as the landscape was hit hard, their wildlife was hit harder.
Buffalo Mountain Ranch specializes in raising “world-class” whitetail deer, elk, and bison. They breed their whitetails in several long fenced-in spaces, separating the deer by gender and age. Unfortunately, those game fences were not enough to stop the flames.
While Ledbetter, his family and staff tried their hardest to get all of the deer out, not all were able to escape. Ledbetter said they lost nearly 20 of their prized whitetail bucks, between the ages of one and two, that were to be released for hunting next year.
“It was going to be really, really good for us, so it cost us a pile of money.” Ledbetter said.
Losing 20 deer may not seem like a lot on the surface, however, Ledbetter said each deer was worth roughly $2,000-$4,000 each.
Ledbetter said while losing the deer does hurt financially, the most important thing was keeping the structures on their land safe. The hunting lodges near the entrance, as well as his daughter and son-in-law’s home that lies deep within the 4,500 acres.
He said they worked tirelessly throughout Tuesday night, with Ledbetter not leaving until 2:30 in the morning and his ranch manager staying throughout the night fighting fires. Together, they were able to clear enough trees and cut enough grass to keep all of their structures safe.
Ledbetter credited God for their safety throughout the night, as well as the firefighters running back and forth trying to assist in extinguishing the flames.
“There’s firefighters and then there’s God, and God will do it when the firefighters can’t,” Ledbetter said.
Ledbetter said there is some good to come out of the fires, as it will help regrow their foliage across the property and create a healthier landscape for their animals.
He also jokingly said the fires didn’t burn any of the cedar trees, and the ones that did get burned will come back stronger in the next few months.
Ledbetter also said his families’ thoughts and prayers go out to all who are being affected by the Mesquite Heat fires, and offered their assistance if they are able.