Here’s how the fire that killed nearly 18,000 Texas cows got started
LUBBOCK — State investigators have determined a fire and explosion at a Panhandle dairy farm was an accident and started with an engine fire in a manure vacuum truck that was cleaning part of the barn.
The April 10 fire at South Fork Dairy Farm in Dimmitt, about 66 miles southwest of Amarillo, killed nearly 18,000 cows and left one person injured. A report from the state fire marshal’s office found there was “no intentional act to cause a failure” but did not determine the cause of the engine fire.
The findings, which were first reported by the Associated Press, noted the dairy farm had a second manure hauling truck on the property outside of the barn, and a dairy manager told investigators it had also previously burned. Investigators found burn marks near the engine compartment that were consistent with the truck fire inside the barn.
Investigators and the dairy manager waited until the next day to make entry into the facility because of the limited visibility at night when the fire started, the threat of the building collapsing and injured cattle wandering.
Investigators note in the report that the structure had only been in use for two and a half years and that the 17,500 cattle housed in the dairy were milked around the clock. Investigators also allowed dairy workers to move injured cattle out and reassured them it would not hinder the outcome of the investigation.
The Animal Welfare Institute, which tracks barn fires, said it was the deadliest barn fire involving cattle since 2013. Investigators with the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office previously stated the fire began as an accident, and the explosion was the result of flammable liquids, including liquid fuel, hydraulic oil and other materials “expanding rapidly.” The investigation into the fire is now closed.
The Texas Tribune previously reported that the massive dairy operation was authorized by the state to more than double the number of cattle allowed on-site in 2019, from 11,500 up to 32,000. The state also authorized the facility to increase its manure production by more than 50% in the same permit with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Dimmitt, located in Castro County, has a population of 4,200 residents. The county is the second-highest milk-producing county in the state and has more than 59,361 cows.
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