When it’s time for Texans to respond or pick up the pieces after a major disaster such as the recent tornadoes and wildfires, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Disaster Assessment and Recovery unit, DAR, gets busy, even if the damage is occurring in their own backyard.

A room full of tables stacked with cans and boxes of food
Disaster Assessment and Recovery teams respond to and help Texans recover from tornadoes and wildfires. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Lorrie Coop)

Members of the Disaster Assessment and Recovery unit of AgriLife Extension, along with Strike Teams and other agency personnel, have been deployed to assist Texans with recovering from these disasters.

AgriLife Extension DAR personnel and others from the agency have been responding to at least 25 tornadoes that recently impacted Jack, Houston, Fort Bend, Nacogdoches and Williamson counties. They have also been responding to multiple wildfires that over the past two weeks have burned more than 75,000 acres throughout Eastland, Brown, Bosque, Coryell, Kenedy, Medina and other counties.   

“DAR team members lend community support and assistance during hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and other natural disasters,” said Monty Dozier, Ph.D., DAR unit director, Bryan-College Station. “They are among the first in our agency to leave and among the last to return when responding to a disaster or emergency. DAR agents serve as a leading force and are a vital part of our first line of defense and service to the people of Texas.”

The DAR team supports the emergency response efforts of groups from The Texas A&M University System, such as the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service and Texas A&M Forest Service. Teams also support state agencies, such as the Texas Division of Emergency Management, TDEM. Additionally, they provide support to national response organizations, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA.  

DAR agents and Strike Team members were activated to assist TDEM and affected jurisdictions for severe weather response and wildfire response over the past week. DAR team members can be deployed for weeks, months or even a year or more.   

DAR and Strike Team assistance – tornadoes

Ten tornadoes tore through North Texas on March 22, one of which damaged schools including Jacksboro Elementary School, and as many as 80 homes in the small town Another tornado left more than 30 homes damaged in Cushing.

A large room full of tables and chairs stacked with diapers and toiletries and other donated items with people working in the back to distribute to people who lost during the tornadoes
The donation and distribution center at the Jack County Show Barn has been taking in clothing as well as food, toiletries, cleaning supplies and other needed items following tornadoes in the area. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Lorrie Coop)

As of March 28, five DAR agents and 12 Strike Team members have been deployed to Nacogdoches and Houston counties to assist with property damage assessments in the communities of Cushing and Crockett. Another team comprised of DAR and county agents was activated to assist with property damage assessments in Madisonville.

“We also have two AgriLife Extension agents responding to a State of Texas Assistance Request from Jack County,” said Rachel Bauer, Bryan-College Station, who serves as DAR liaison for the TDEM. “They are providing assistance to the donations management center that has been set up in Jacksboro for a period of two weeks.”

Lorrie Coop, AgriLife Extension District 3 administrator for the Rolling Plains region based in Vernon, has been deployed to coordinate response activities at the distribution center as part of a recovery effort led by Jack County agriculture and natural resources agent Charlie Martin.

Coop is currently assisting DAR efforts through a donation collection and distribution center set up at the Jack County Show Barn, providing badly needed household supplies to those affected.

“We have been collecting food, toiletries, clothing, cleaning supplies and other necessary items,” Coop said. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of those who have donated, with some coming in from as far away as Fort Worth and Grapevine.”

The center currently is not accepting any additional clothing donations, but needed items include oil for chainsaws, laundry detergent, work gloves, boxes, tarps, duct tape, first aid kits, shop towels and packaging materials.

Coop said area home improvement stores have provided large amounts of donated goods and area churches and youth groups have also been conducting food and clothing drives for needed items.

“As people are able to get back into their homes and see what they have lost or what supplies they might need to clean up, they can come to the distribution center and we will help them get what they need,” Coop said.

She said 15 county agents from the agency’s Rolling Plains district, as well as the district’s 4-H and youth development specialist, have volunteered to help with the mission. Two AgriLife Extension agents will be on-site daily at the show barn until early April. Donations can be made by calling the collection center hotline at 940-567-2259.

Coop also noted that the home of Alinda Cox, AgriLife Extension family and community health agent for Jack County, was one of the homes destroyed. Additionally, the home of Shaniqua Davis, AgriLife Extension agriculture and natural resources agent for Upshur County, was severely damaged by another tornado.   

“Even when they themselves are in the midst of the turmoil that surrounds the disaster, losing their own homes or fighting fires in their backyard, AgriLife Extension personnel are out assisting Texans who are also recovering,” Coop said. “We are here to help all Texans affected by this disaster, and we can empathize with them even more since this has also happened to our friends and coworkers.”   

The agency is leading efforts to assist its two agents affected by the tornados. To donate to Cox, go to https://tx.ag/EXTDisasterRelief. To donate to Davis, make checks payable to TCAAA and send to TCAAA, Attn: Davis Fund, 1517 W. Front Street, Suite 116, Tyler, TX 75702.

DAR and Strike Team assistance — wildfires

Since March 18, AgriLife Extension’s DAR and strike team members also have been helping Texans respond to and recover from the Eastland Complex Fire as well as other wildfires in the state. Seven DAR members and two strike team members were initially deployed.

A man, Bryan Davis, unloading hay from a trailer, handing it down to another man for Animal Supply point.
Disaster Assessment and Recovery agent Bryan Davis from Wilson County, left, helps unload a donated hay delivery for the Animal Supply Point in Eastland. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

The DAR team coordinated with the Texas A&M University Veterinary Emergency Team to set up an animal supply and shelter facility in Eastland, plus set up Animal Supply Points in Carbon and Gorman.

“We took in mainly horses and cattle here at the Eastland facility and all of them have been returned,” said Curtis Preston, DAR agent from Lubbock who serves as the team lead. “The supply points in Carbon and Gorman are providing mainly hay, feed and fencing materials. People have been very generous with their donations, and we’re very grateful for that.”

Raylene Pennington, a DAR agent based in Glen Rose, was deployed to the Eastland Complex Fire. She has been assisting at the Animal Supply Point and serving as a strike team member in support of Texas A&M’s emergency veterinarian teams.

“A lot of people lost all their grazing material and their fences burned so they need to repair those quickly to contain their livestock,” Pennington said. “We also have a number of sheep producers in this area, and they are badly in need of sheep feed.”  

TJ Cummings, AgriLife Extension agriculture and natural resources agent, Eastland County, said he has been impressed by the giving spirit of those making donations.

“Our AgriLife Extension family and community health agent has been working in the community to help with donations of household items for those who had their homes damaged or destroyed,” he said. “We’ve also had several 4-H’ers drop off different types of animal feed. We even had an elderly lady drop off a half a bag of cat food, saying she knew some other animal out there would need it more than hers.”

Fire donation information                                                                                 

Primary contact: AgriLife Extension’s donations hotline: 979-314-8200.

Secondary contact: Gorman Milling Company Inc., Fiber Plant, 1200 E. Townsend, Gorman, Red Chain Feed Mill, Luke Fritts, 254-734-2252.

A relief fund has also been established through the STAR Fund Disaster Assistance through the Texas Department of Agriculture. Payment is available via PayPal.

For local wildfire conditions and updates, visit the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Paul is a communications and media relations specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Communications. Based in San Antonio, Paul is responsible for writing advances, news releases and feature stories for Texas A&M AgriLife agencies, as well as providing any media relations support needed.