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Double K Ranch loses year's worth of hay due to lightning fire

A lightning storm struck Double K Ranch in Darby, setting fire to their year’s hay harvest.
Posted at 3:39 PM, Aug 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-03 17:49:24-04

DARBY - While it's common for humans to be the cause of wildfires, Mother Nature can play a large role as well.

A lightning storm struck Double K Ranch in Darby on Friday, July 28, 2023, setting fire to this year’s hay harvest, leaving them over $50,000 out of luck.

“It’s an act of God you know, lightning storm comes through and hits — there’s tons of other stuff around here that’s taller than our haystack, and it hits our haystack and lights our whole haystack on fire,” Double K Ranch employee Jeff Snavely says.

Snavely, a firefighter for the Darby Fire Department, first heard of the fire from a neighbor who saw lightning strike the bales.

Shortly after he started heading towards the ranch, his fire department also heard the call. They had just finished with a fundraiser at Hamilton’s Daly Days Friday night.

The fire was already mature when Snavely arrived, “It probably had 50-60 bales consumed by then, when I got here."

His fellow firefighter, Kelsey, who also works at the ranch, started to hose down the flames as Snavely used a tractor to separate bales that were not on fire.

“It just ran through the whole pile, I mean, I couldn’t keep up, as fast as I could go with the tractor. The bales that I did save and got out, because the wind switched, it blew embers into those and caught those on fire,” Snavely says.

Jeff Snavely, an employee at Double K Ranch says the fire was "an act of God" because it was highly unlikely for lightning to directly hit the haystack.

They started fighting the fire around 6:30 p.m., finally getting it contained around 7 a.m. the next day. None of the hay was salvageable.

Snavely and Kelsey are the main two employees who collect the hay on the ranch and had been putting in nearly 90-hour weeks to finish up the season.

“Knowing that all that hard work, all that time, all that money that went into making round bales for this ranch, to see it all gone is definitely heartbreaking," Snavely says.

Having just finished their harvest, the ranch had a collection of 300 tons of hay, the perfect amount to get them through the winter, according to co-owner Dillon Kouf.

“The biggest thing is we’re a grass-fed operation with our beef, so they only eat grass,” Kouf says. “That’s their only food source, we don’t grain feed them, they don’t get anything else but the grass that we grow here. So the hay is our biggest thing we need to keep the animals alive.”

Kouf was able to source replacement hay for $50,000, but he says they also had $10,000 to $20,000 in damage to fences and landscape. Insurance only covered a small portion of the cost.

Another lightning struck a tree in their pig pen, paralyzing one of the pigs and forcing them to euthanize it. Still, the fire did not burn any buildings.

“It could always be worse, it didn’t strike anyone it didn’t strike our meat shop or our barn, or burn down a building, that would’ve definitely set us back a lot more," Kouf says.

Kouf was out of town when the fire started and was shocked when he heard of the incident. Nothing like this fire has ever happened on his ranch.

“It was definitely a stressful phone call to get,” he says.

Dillon Kouf, co-owner of Double K Ranch, is mostly upset about the amount of time and hard work that was lost with the burnt bales.

Since the start of the fire, the surrounding community has rallied behind the ranch. Locals even came to help put out the fire the night of the 28, and a local church provided meals to the firefighters.

Hamilton, Corvallis, Pinesdale and the Forest Service assisted Darby Fire Department in containing the fire.

“People from all over have been reaching out, so it’s been great,” Kouf says. “We’re very thankful for all the support and everyone that’s reached out.”

The ranch has started a GoFundMe for those with means to donate, and will accept any extra hay fellow ranches may have.

The best way to support them, according to Kouf, is to buy their meat and visit their deli on Paxson Street in Missoula.

“Just stopping by and helping the business,” he says.