A barn fire in the Texas panhandle killed 18,000 cows on Monday, KFDA-TV reported, which an animal welfare group says would make it the deadliest fire for cattle in U.S. history.
The Castro County Sheriff's Office said it was among the agencies that responded to Monday's fire, which included explosions. The agency said the fire near Dimmitt, Texas, caused one human to be treated. All other employees were accounted for.
According to the Animal Welfare Institute, barn fires have killed 6.5 million animals in the last decade, but the vast majority of those are chickens. Since 2013, there had been a reported 7,385 cows killed in barn fires prior to the incident in Texas.
Allie Granger, a farm animal policy associate with the Animal Welfare Institute, told Scripps News there is concern incidents like this could become more frequent. She said the number of cattle in one facility is "alarming."
"It is very hard to grasp, you know, especially, we're talking cattle," she said. "I mean, they're massive animals. So, to think 18,000 … that building was just incredibly huge. So it is very hard to wrap your mind around them."
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The USDA issued a report in 2020 highlighting the issue of consolidation. In 1987, the median farm had 80 cows. By 2017, that number grew to 1,300. From 2002 through 2019, the number of dairy-producing farms fell by over 50%, the USDA said.
The fact that cows are being confined to a smaller number of farms concerns advocates like Granger.
"It's certainly becoming increasingly common, particularly with consolidation within the dairy industry, to have larger and larger operations," she said. "And I just fear the larger these operations continue to grow, the higher the risk is."
Granger noted that there are no federal regulations to prevent large barn fires.
"You have no specific requirements for fire safety," she said. "So that is a huge gap in terms of protections for these animals. And we see it across the board when it comes to animals used in agriculture."
According to Rutgers Cooperative Extension, half of all barn fires involve the entire building. It notes that barns often contain highly flammable materials such as hay and straw, and accelerants such as gasoline.