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Cattle rancher grateful for fire crews who helped save animals from Telegraph Fire

Posted at 5:20 AM, Jun 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-17 14:07:39-04

GLOBE, AZ — Carol Ptak started her journey to rebuilding a historic ranch in El Capitan East just seven years ago.

After purchasing the property and moving her rare Scottish cattle from Washington State to rural Arizona, she's slowly growing her beef ranching business alongside her husband, Jim.

On Monday, the two woke up to a "GO" alert on their phones. The Telegraph Fire was now threatening their home, their business, and their lives.

Ptak described seeing a wall of flames surrounding their property, and an incident commander standing outside her door before she could even make it to the car.

“[He said] 'You need to get in the car right now and you need to get on that road,'" Ptak recalls. "'The fire has just about closed the only road out of your ranch. If you don’t get in that car and go right now as fast as you can, you and I are both going to die here.'"

Ptak was prepared and in "SET" mode with her belongings, cattle, and horses in designated areas to allow them to easily herd them into trailers. She even reached out to fellow ranchers on social media, who she says hurried over with trailers in tow hoping to help her and the animals evacuate. The fast-moving flames kept those ranchers from reaching her property, though.

"It was the most gut-wrenching experience knowing that all these people had shown up to help us and that we couldn’t, we couldn’t do it," she said.

Ptak was forced to leave three horses and 59 heads of cattle behind on her property, as she and her husband drove through the narrow path to safety.

“Our instructions to the firefighters were if there is a choice between saving our house and saving the cattle, save the cattle," said Ptak.

The two took refuge at a friend's home just north of Globe, waiting and hoping for updates from firefighters on the front lines.

"At one point, our whole ranch was under red," said Ptak, describing images of online fire maps they checked every few hours. "My husband and I looked at each other and said, 'we’re done, we’re done.' We really thought we lost everything, and then fire command contacted us and said we think you’re going to be happy, you’re going to be very surprised with what you see.“

On Wednesday morning, Ptak says she returned to find her home and her barn unscathed, standing, and each of her head of cattle alive and taken care of.

"It was the synergy of cattle where they belong, the incredible firemen and the grace of God," she said. "We are just so fortunate.”

Ptak says her ranch was saved in part by the grazing done by her cattle. After years of eating up the dry bush in the area, her land was free of brush that could easily catch fire. It's why Ptak says she's a strong proponent for allowing ranchers to graze and maintain public lands surrounding their properties -- many of whom Ptak says have lost their livelihoods in this devastating fire.

"We are very lucky and will be able to continue our operation," she said. " There’s a lot of ranchers out there who were not as fortunate."

Ptak says she encourages Arizonans willing and able to help to donate to the Arizona Cattle Growers Foundation, which is hoping to help those impacted by the Telegraph Fire rebuild their homes and businesses.