The blaze happened Monday at South Fork Dairy near Dimmitt, Texas. A fire crew rescued one employee who was trapped inside a farm facility. No other employees were injured, according to the Castro County sheriff's office.
Castro County Sheriff Salvador Rivera said the explosion and fire were likely caused by overheated equipment and would be investigated by state fire marshals, according to the Associated Press.
Fire crew worked late into the night to contain the blaze at South Fork Dairy near Dimmitt, Texas. The incident claimed the lives of roughly 18,000 cows, local officials said. CASTRO COUNTY (TEXAS) SHERIFF'S OFFICE
The incident marks the nation's deadliest fire for cows since at least 2013, the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C., told CBS MoneyWatch. The agriculture industry and lawmakers must pass stricter laws protecting animals from fire, said Allie Granger, policy associate for AWI's farm animal program.
"It is hard to imagine anything worse than being burned alive," Granger said. "We hope the industry will remain focused on this issue and strongly encourage farms to adopt common-sense fire safety measures."
The fire started in a different part of the farm property, then spread to a holding pen where the cows wait to be milked, according to KFDA, a CBS affiliate in Amarillo, Texas.
Castro County judge Mandy Gfeller, the top executive in the county, estimated South Fork's losses in the tens of millions of dollars, USA Today reported. Each cow was worth about $2,000, and the 18,000 who were killed made up 90% of the farm's total herd, according to the outlet.
South Fork Dairy could not be reached for comment.
Texas is the nation's fourth-largest milk producer, behind Idaho, Wisconsin and California, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Lone Star State pumps out more than 7 million tons of milk per year.
Dimmitt, in the Texas Panhandle, is about 50 miles southwest of Amarillo and 50 miles east of the New Mexico border.
The surviving cows were moved to a different facility on the South Fork farm, but local sheriffs said some of those cattle suffered, too.
"There's some that survived, there's some that are probably injured to the point where they'll have to be destroyed," Castro County Sheriff Sal Rivera told KFDA.
About 6.5 million animals have died in barn fires since 2013, of which 7,385 were cows, according to Animal Welfare Institute data. Chickens have suffered the most, with 6 million deaths, according to the advocacy group's tally, which began a decade ago. A 2022 report by the institute noted "several instances in which 100,000 to 400,000 chickens were killed in a single fire."
Cattle deaths from the South Fork fire far surpass the cow fatalities two years ago when an upstate New York farm fire claimed the lives of 400. That fire tore through two buildings at the Bubbins Farm in Beekmantown, New York, causing over $3 million in damage, CBS affiliate WCAX reported. It took 19 fire departments — including one from Vermont and three from Canada — to contain the blaze.