More than 18,000 cows were burned alive and one farm worker is in critical condition following a dairy farm explosion and fire in the Texas Panhandle.
The fire started Monday night at South Fork Dairy Farm in Dimmitt, about 66 miles south of Amarillo. Authorities believe that machinery in the facility may have ignited methane gas.
One person was trapped inside the dairy farm but was rescued by first responders, according to the sheriff’s office.
Texas fire involving cows deadliest in nearly a decade
According to the Animal Welfare Institute, the incident is the deadliest fire involving cows in nearly a decade.
“We hope the industry will remain focused on this issue and strongly encourage farms to adopt common-sense fire safety measures,” said Allie Granger, policy associate for AWI’s farm animal program. “It is hard to imagine anything worse than being burned alive.”
At least 18K cows died in an explosion and fire at a dairy farm in Dimmitt, Texas. pic.twitter.com/jgsYPQSROo
— D. Scott @eclipsethis2003 (@eclipsethis2003) April 13, 2023
Speaking to local news outlet KFDA, Sheriff Sal Rivera said that most of the cattle had been lost after the blaze spread to an area in which cows were held before being taken to a milking area and then into a holding pen.
“There’s some that survived,” he was quoted as saying. “There’s some that are probably injured to the point where they’ll have to be destroyed.”
In 2019, Texas authorized the facility to more than double the number of cattle allowed on-site from 11,500 to up to 32,000, according to a permit with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texas Tribune reports.
In a statement, TCEQ spokesperson Victoria Cann said that the agency will ensure that dead livestock and debris are disposed of properly. She said the agency is not aware of any environmental impacts from the explosion.
Castro County is the second-highest milk-producing county in the state and has more than 59,361 cows. According to a United States Department of Agriculture report, the county produced more than 147 million pounds of milk in February, Texas Tribune says.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller called the incident devastating but said he was grateful there were no further injuries to workers or loss of human life. He also called for the findings of the investigation to be made public once it is finished.
“This was the deadliest barn fire for cattle in Texas history and the investigation and cleanup may take some time,” Miller said. “There are lessons to be learned and the impact of this fire may influence the immediate area and the industry itself. Once we know the cause and the facts surrounding this tragedy, we will make sure the public is fully informed — so tragedies like this can be avoided in the future.”
The 18,000 cows killed represent just a fraction of the 625,000 dairy cows in Texas. Including beef cows, there are 13 million in the state, according to the Texas Almanac.
Large numbers of cattle have died in Texas before. During Winter Storm Goliath in 2015, 35,000 cattle froze to death.