Officials said one female worker and thousands of cattle were trapped inside the milking parlor of the dairy farm in Dimmitt, Texas, after receiving multiple 911 calls reporting an explosion and fire on Monday. A towering column of smoke mushroomed over the plains as rescue workers approached about 7 p.m.
The employee, whose name has not been published by authorities, was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Lubbock, Texas, where she remained in critical condition as of Thursday, according to reports. “While devastating, I’m grateful that there were no further injuries,” said Sid Miller, Texas’s agricultural commissioner.
He also mentioned that over 18,000 livestock had perished. For the Texas cattle industry, “This was the deadliest barn fire for cattle in Texas history,” Mr. Miller added. “The investigation and cleanup may take some time.”
According to information collected by the Animal Welfare Institute, a non-profit that has been monitoring barn fires in the United States since 2013, this event appears to be the largest mass death of cattle in a single fire in Texas, and maybe the entire United States, in at least two decades.
Barn fires, which the group says are frequently caused by electrical faults, have killed almost six million animals during that time period, yet fewer than one percent of those animals were cattle. There have been previous cases of huge cattle deaths.
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Over 35,000 dairy cows in Texas were lost when a blizzard hit in 2016. In the year following, a number of California cattle ranchers saw their herds and businesses wiped out by terrible wildfires. The South Fork Dairy Farm in Dimmitt, Texas, a city of about 4,000 people southwest of Amarillo, caught fire and exploded on Monday, and the state fire marshal is still looking into what caused the incident.
On Thursday night, the fire marshal’s office did not immediately reply to calls for comment. The Castro County judge and the mayor of Dimmitt did not respond to requests for comment. Frank Brand, who is listed as the farm’s operator, said he could not comment when contacted by phone on Thursday evening.
Texas dairy producers’ lobbying group the Texas Association of Dairymen issued a statement expressing “deeply saddened for the family dairy, and everyone affected by the tragedy,” while also noting the strength and bravery displayed by all concerned.
According to the group, less than 5 percent of the state’s milk comes from Castro County. Workers in the dairy business reported that local residents had teamed together to bring meals to farmers whose properties had been damaged in the fire.
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