An explosion at a Texas farm on Monday resulted in a massive fire that led to the deaths of a staggering 18,000 cows. Local officials have described the loss as the biggest single-incident death of cattle in the US in recorded history.
County Judge Mandy Gfeller told USA Today that the explosion at the South Fork Dairy farm near the city of Dimmitt may have been caused by a faulty piece of farm equipment. She added that local fire officials are still investigating.
The dairy farm had reportedly opened in the area just over three years ago and employed 50 to 60 people. There were no human casualties in the fire and only one person was injured. He was taken to the hospital, where he was reported to be in a critical but stable condition as of Tuesday.
Gfeller stated that most of the 18,000 cows that perished were located in a large holding pen waiting to be milked when the fire broke out. The animals represented about 90% of the farm’s total herd, according to the official.
She noted that each cow was valued at roughly $2,000, meaning South Fork Dairy’s losses in livestock could amount to tens of millions of dollars, even before equipment and structural damage are included.
“You’re looking at a devastating loss,” Gfeler said. “My heart goes out to each person involved in that operation.”
An associate of the Animal Welfare Institute – a Washington-based advocacy group – has claimed that the incident easily surpasses all records since it began tracking barn and farm fires in 2013. The previous record was established in 2020 when a fire at an upstate New York dairy farm killed some 400 cows.
State and dairy officials are conflicted on how to deal with the task of cleaning up the 18,000 charred carcasses. While the Texas Commision On Environment Quality provides certain guidelines on burying animals, such as placing them at least 15 meters from any water wells, it does not account for mass graves, USA Today noted.
Dimmitt’s mayor, Roger Malone, told the outlet that although he has taken emergency management courses that teach how to dispose of animal carcasses after a disaster, he has never had to apply it to such a large scale.
“How do you dispose of 18,000 carcasses? That’s something you just don’t run into very much,” he said.
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