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More than 18,000 cows are dead after dairy farm explosion in Texas Panhandle

By Jayme Lozano-Carver and Erin Douglas, The Texas Tribune

More than 18,000 cows are dead after dairy farm explosion in Texas Panhandle” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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LUBBOCK — More than 18,000 cows died and one farm worker is in critical condition following a dairy farm fire in the Texas Panhandle.

The fire started Monday night at South Fork Dairy Farm in Dimmitt, about 66 miles south of Amarillo. The Castro County sheriff’s office, along with fire departments from Dimmitt, Hart and Nazareth, were the first responders to the explosion in the small town of nearly 4,200, according to the sheriff’s office.

One person was trapped inside the dairy farm but was rescued by first responders, according to the sheriff’s office. They were later flown to a Lubbock hospital.

According to the Animal Welfare Institute, the incident is the deadliest fire involving cows in nearly a decade. A statement provided by the Texas Association of Dairymen on behalf of the dairy industry expressed condolences for the incident.

“We are deeply saddened for the family dairy, and everyone affected by the tragedy that occurred at South Fork Dairy farm,” the statement said. “The cause of the fire is still under investigation, and we are deferring to the appropriate authorities to make that determination.”

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.

The state also authorized the facility to increase its manure production by more than 50% in that expanded permit.

Wastewater from the facility drains into the Brazos River Basin.

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 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 amounts of cattle have died in Texas before. During Winter Storm Goliath in 2015, 35,000 cattle froze to death.

The state fire marshal’s office is conducting an investigation into the cause of the fire.

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Dairymen has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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