Cause of Deadly Dairy Farm Fire Revealed

Image of the explosion. | Image by Castro County Emergency Management

Investigators have ruled the fire that struck a dairy farm in the Panhandle in April — one of the deadliest barn fires in Texas history — an accident.

As The Dallas Express reported, an estimated 18,000 head of cattle were killed when Southfork Dairy Farm in Castro County was struck by a fire and an explosion at about 7:30 p.m. on April 10.

Marjorie Fishman, a spokesperson for the Animal Welfare Institute, called it the deadliest barn fire involving cattle recorded in the past decade since the organization started tracking them in 2013, according to U.S. News and World Report. It was topped by a 2017 fire in Indiana that killed 1 million chickens at Hi-Grade Egg Producers North.

One worker was injured in the explosion that followed the fire when she was trapped inside the milking facility. She was rescued by first responders and hospitalized shortly thereafter. She has since been released.

Texas investigators concluded in a report from the State Fire Marshal’s Office that the Southfork Daily Farm accident was triggered by a fire that broke out in the engine of a manure vacuum truck, according to NBC 5.

A worker had been driving the truck through the barn when smoke began to billow from its engine. He couldn’t manage to move the vehicle outside in time, and despite his reported attempts to extinguish the fire, it spread.

Cattle generate a large amount of methane through their burps, flatulence, and manure, which can be highly flammable.

Videos of the fire circulated on social media at the time, showing enormous walls of smoke.

The 2-million-square-foot barn was destroyed.

“It’s very unfortunate,” said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, according to KLBK. “This was a state-of-the-art dairy barn, climate controlled, cows had their own mattresses. It was a really nice place, less than three years old. We had a tremendous loss there.”

While it is unknown what caused the engine fire, foul play was not suspected, and the state fire marshal reported the investigation closed on April 24, according to NBC 5.

“This is a kind of a freak accident,” Miller said, according to KLBK.

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