Medicine Lodge couple rebuilds after losing everything in wildfire


MEDICINE LODGE, Kan. (KSNW) – Parts of Kansas are still actively working to recover from wildfires earlier this year but in some areas, people are still recovering from the damage caused by fires more than a year ago.

KSN revisited the Gerstners; a couple who lost just about everything they owned when the Anderson Creek Wildfire ripped through their home of more than a half century, diminishing it to rubble.

“When the fire came it broke it all down,” Don said. “We were pretty lucky to get out of here, I guess.”

Today, they’re recovering after an abundance of community support, along with more than $18,000 in donations to a GoFundMe page set up in their name.

“It helped a great deal,” he said.

At 88 years old, Don built him and his wife a new place to live on the same plot of land they love so much.

All they have left to finish now are the final touches, like adding sidewalks and furniture.

“When I get started on something there’s just no place to quit,” Don said.

While the Gerstners look ahead, the reality of the Anderson Creek Wildfire is still fresh for many people in Barber County.

“It’s hard to look back and say we had that kind of a fire in Barber County,” said Rick Wesley, Barber County volunteer fire chief.

The fire devastated nearly 400,000 acres across Kansas and Oklahoma, but Barber was the hardest hit, facing a cost of $1.5 million, exhausted resources and several destroyed homes.

It’s a memory those who fought to save the Gerstners home won’t forget any time soon.

“We just got to Don’s and it was just, already fully engulfed in fire and there wasn’t much we could do with it when we go there,” Wesley said.

In the future, the community has to be ready for any possibility, Wesley said.

“Whether this is an extreme the last couple years and whether we’ll see it again, we don’t know but maybe we’ll see it every year like this,” he said. “You just don’t know so we’re going to have to work at keeping fire guards around our houses and stuff in good shape.”

Should another fire sweep the prairie, the Gerstners are prepared, Don said. He pushed back all the tall grass away from their new home to keep it from igniting.

“It was a little close and probably if I’d been able to mow back in there further to the west it might not have burnt the house down,” he said.

With just a little work left on the house, the Gerstners still see the impact of the community’s support.

“Wherever I go everybody says, ‘How’s the house coming along’?” he said.

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