The 911 calls came in rapid succession, with reports of an explosion and fire on Monday that officials would later say had trapped one female employee and thousands of cattle inside a milking parlor at a dairy farm in Dimmitt, Texas.
As emergency responders approached after 7 p.m., they witnessed the thick plume of smoke, mushrooming over the plains. The worker, whose name the authorities have not released, was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Lubbock, Texas, where she was still being treated as of Thursday, officials said.
“While devastating, I’m grateful that there were no further injuries,” Sid Miller, the Texas agricultural commissioner, said in a statement.
As for the cattle, he noted, around 18,000 had died. “This was the deadliest barn fire for cattle in Texas history,” Mr. Miller added. “The investigation and cleanup may take some time.”
The episode appears to be the largest mass death of cattle in a single fire, not only in Texas, but also across the United States, in at least two decades, according to data from the Animal Welfare Institute, a nonprofit that has been tracking barn fires since 2013.
During that period, more than six million animals have been killed in barn fires — which the organization says are often caused by electrical malfunctions — but less than 1 percent of the animal casualties have been cattle.
Cattle have died en masse in other circumstances, however. In 2016, a blizzard killed more than 35,000 dairy cows in Texas. The following year, some cattle farmers in California lost their herds and livelihoods in devastating wildfires.
Officials said the cause of Monday’s explosion and fire at the South Fork Dairy Farm in Dimmitt, a city of around 4,000 people southwest of Amarillo, Texas, remained under investigation by the state fire marshal.
The fire marshal’s office did not immediately respond to requests for further information on Thursday evening. Local officials, including the mayor of Dimmitt and the Castro County judge, also could not be immediately reached.
When reached by phone on Thursday evening, Frank Brand, who is listed as the farm’s operator, said that he could not comment.
The Texas Association of Dairymen, an industry group that advocates for dairy farmers, said in a statement that it was “deeply saddened for the family dairy, and everyone affected by the tragedy,” adding that those involved had shown resolve and courage. Castro County produces just under 5 percent of the state’s milk, according to the organization.
Community members in the agricultural region were shocked by the destruction caused by the fire and had banded together to deliver lunch and dinner to the affected farmers, dairy industry workers said.
Source: The New York Times