The official report on the deadliest barn fire involving cattle in Texas history, and in the last decade, has deemed it an accident.
While the 25-page report from the Texas State Fire Marshal said no foul play was involved in the record-setting fire in the state’s panhandle, questions about the cause linger.
The April 10 blaze at the South Fork Dairy in Demmitt, Texas, killed almost 18,000 dairy cows and critically injured one employee, who later recovered, according to the Castro County Sheriff’s Office.
South Fork Dairy was one of the largest dairy farms in the country, located about 75 miles northwest of Lubbock.
The fire marshal report obtained through an open record request said the cause of the inferno that created a large black plume of smoke high over the Texas prairie was caused by an engine fire in a manure vacuum truck.
The fire was so hot that metal beams were warped in places. From the structure’s exterior, investigators found dead cattle “three to four deep.”
The fire was mentioned on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” before Fox News canceled this popular news host. Carlson began reporting on a slate of fires at food processing plants and livestock deaths by fire in 2022 and suggested the events might be connected as part of a conspiracy to damage the nation’s food supply.
Fires have killed many thousands of chickens and cattle across America, prompting widespread concerns about food security.
“It looks like terrorism,” Carlson said on his show after the massive fire at the South Fork Dairy. “Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But maybe someone should explain how it isn’t.”
Several weeks later, the Texas Fire Marshal’s Office called the dairy blaze accidental. But the official report noted something unusual. A second Mensch manure vacuum truck—the same make and model as the one used inside the barn at the time of the fire—had previously burned due to an engine fire.
The investigation report noted that the second truck was parked outside the east side of the barn near a generator, where it had remained undisturbed since its engine caught fire. Local news reports cited a Texas State Fire Marshal’s news release saying that a third vacuum truck fire had occurred at another dairy. The statement gave no further detail.
The agency’s news release stressed that no foul play was indicated, and the incident was not a “terroristic attack, or any type of event caused to interrupt the milk supply.”
Yet the vacuum trucks have no history of malfunctioning, according to a written statement from Mensch Manufacturing in Hastings, Michigan, to The Epoch Times.
“No one has identified any issue with the machine, and we are unaware of any issue with the machine that would have caused a fire,” the statement reads. “In our nearly four decades of operation, we have had no claims about defective equipment that led to a fire.”
Deadliest Barn Fire for Cattle
The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), which keeps records of barn fires and farm animal deaths, ranked the South Fork Dairy fire the deadliest for cattle since the agency began tracking barn fires in 2013.
Livestock deaths from fires have been increasing, a recent AWI study shows. From 2018-2021, 539 fires killed nearly 3 million animals, researchers found.
Allie Granger is a farm animal program policy associate at AWI. The institute has never seen a pattern of engine fires like those described at South Fork Dairy, she said.
“It’s a very bizarre situation that there were two fires on this one particular operation involving the same make and model” truck, Granger said. “And then [there’s] the third incident that we’re hearing about. It does seem strange.”
But Granger said she doesn’t think the fire at South Fork Dairy was due to foul play. The cause of barn fires often remains unknown because there’s no mandatory reporting requirement, she said.
“For the incidents where we do know the cause, the majority usually has to do with heating equipment,” she said.
On more extensive farm operations, a leading cause of fires is electrical malfunction, she said.
Barn fires happen most often in the Upper Midwest and Northeast, according to another AWI report. The states with the most barn fires were New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, researchers found.
More than twice as many barn fires occurred in winter, as compared to summer, according to data.
And though some have speculated that the cause of barn fires is connected with threats to food security, barn fires happen frequently and normally receive little attention, Granger said.
Fire Started in the Engine Compartment
Fire investigators noted in their report they could not find any “recalls or information related to fires involving Mensch vehicles other than those that have occurred in Castro County.”
The deadly fire inside the barn originated in the engine compartment of the Mensch operating at the north end of the 2-million-square-foot structure, state investigators wrote.
The worker told investigators he was operating the vacuum when he saw what he thought was steam coming from under the hood.
When he saw it was on fire, he tried to drive the machine out of the barn but couldn’t, the report said. So he tried to put out the fire with two fire extinguishers.
Other employees ran to get more extinguishers. But when they returned, the fire was too big to control, they told investigators.
“The exact failure was not determined, but there was no intentional act to cause a failure found. No other ignition sources were found in the area of origin,” the report concluded.
Fire Could Change the Dairy Industry
The State Fire Marshal report noted that insurance companies would investigate the fire further.
And Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a news release that it was necessary to understand what happened, noting there are “lessons to be learned” and that the impact of the fire could influence “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,” Miller said in the written statement.
He did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Epoch Times. Additionally, the owner of South Fork Dairy did not immediately return a request for comment.
Article cross-posted from our premium news partners at The Epoch Times.