This text accommodates disturbing pictures.

CASTRO COUNTY, Texas – The aroma of cow manure rode the spring breeze, because it all the time does on this stretch of Texas panhandle, the place the wind lifts an limitless fog of microscopic particles that infuse each mile with an earthy scent, the scent of enterprise.

As nightfall descended on the South Fork Dairy on April 10, staff busied themselves with the night shift. Some refilled hay bins. Others checked on pregnant cows or hosed down gear.

Extracting 24 semi-truck a great deal of milk from 17,500 cows day by day requires a round the clock operation, however the crew wouldn’t be hindered by the gathering nightfall. A lot of this farm’s operation was indoors.

The huge barn stood at 2 million sq. ft, bigger than two Amazon achievement facilities finish over finish, a footprint nearly twice the scale of the Pentagon. Even by Texas’ requirements, it was thought-about huge.

Cattle pens had been aligned in rows and bisected by arrow-straight alleyways, like metropolis blocks whose gutters collected not rain however an limitless stream of cow manure. Electronically managed followers on the east finish sucked air throughout the barn, conserving it cross-ventilated. The wind outdoors that night blew at 5 mph, however inside, the followers might transfer it at 7.

Throughout this indoor metropolis, 1000’s of cows lowed lazily. Then the smoke began to rise.

Juan Gutierrez observed it first. He rode that night within the cab of a manure vacuum truck in an alley subsequent to Pen 3. The truck was a specialised marvel that stored the pens and alleys clear – the cows couldn’t depart the barn, however their manure might, a number of instances a day. The truck scraped noisily because it sucked manure into its giant holding tank, which might later be emptied into a close-by lagoon.

Gutierrez, insulated from the noise inside a sealed cabin, immediately noticed smoke rising from the car’s engine. Then he noticed flames licking from the engine compartment. He emerged from the cab and doused the blaze with a fireplace extinguisher, then a second, however couldn’t cease it.

By the point he and different staff might seize extra extinguishers, the fireplace had leaped to the ceiling, spreading uncontrolled.

Smoke fills the sky after an explosion and fire at the Southfork Dairy Farms near Dimmitt, Texas, on Monday, April 10, 2023. The explosion at the dairy farm in the Texas Panhandle that critically injured one person and killed an estimated 18,000 head of cattle is the deadliest barn fire recorded since the Animal Welfare Institute began tracking the fires.

The fire at South Fork Dairy exploded into the single deadliest event involving livestock in Texas historical past and the deadliest cattle hearth in America in not less than a decade.

The blaze made it onto information websites throughout the U.S. and as far-off as Russia, China and New Zealand.

The headline was gorgeous on its face: Almost 18,000 cows dead in a single blaze.

A Texas State Hearth Marshal’s report would later doc the occasions of the day, together with the descriptions of the fireplace Gutierrez noticed from the vacuum truck. The official report can be labeled “SENSITIVE” in purple, all-capital letters and embrace pictures of the charred herd.

It might additionally again up the farm proprietor’s contentions, blaming the fireplace on the vacuum truck, classifying the occasion as “unintended” and concluding, “This case is CLOSED.”

However the hearth marshal’s report and the barn’s charred stays underscore three overlapping points which have but to be resolved.

The South Fork catastrophe, in response to the report, started with a manure vacuum, the specialised, diesel-powered truck constructed by an organization referred to as Mensch. This piece of farm gear has no obvious regulation or oversight from farm, transportation or office regulators.

A photo from the State Fire Marshal's Office report shows the burnt-out manure vacuum truck, the cause of the fire.

A photograph from the State Hearth Marshal’s Workplace report reveals the burnt-out manure vacuum truck, the reason for the fireplace.

Second, the record-setting cattle demise, whereas surprising, was a part of a transparent development. Farm operations are rising smaller in quantity however greater in measurement, the regular rise of so-called giant concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Activists say these bigger herds have led to ever-larger disasters.

Third is the unseen know-how that ties the opposite two elements collectively. It merited no point out within the official report, as a result of at South Fork, it had been deliberate although not but constructed. It’s referred to as a biogas digester, a sequence of lined ponds, sumps and pipes that focus animal manure and convert it into pure gasoline.

This so-called biogas has been touted as a win for the setting. Animal waste that will have been pushing aside dangerous greenhouse gases are transformed right into a renewable supply of power for truck engines or energy crops. However detractors, together with some in Congress, fear that public subsidies for this power supply have grow to be an incentive for farms to develop ever bigger: a suggestions loop which means extra cows, extra manure and extra threat, in anyone spot.

And whereas the dimensions of the catastrophe drew widespread consideration, that response largely neglected the toll on the fireplace’s different victims, the individuals who labored alongside the cows. Some feared for his or her household’s farming legacy. Some raced towards the flames with hearth extinguishers that couldn’t outdo the flames. One, trapped behind a wall of warmth and black smoke, practically died.

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A disturbing name on Facetime

Ezra Linzer, 36, was enjoying along with his 1-year-old son at their residence someday round 7:30 on a Monday night when a textual content message buzzed into his telephone.

Linzer, 36, helped handle South Fork Dairy and different properties owned by a Texas dairy proprietor who additionally was his father-in-law, Eltje Frans Model.

Model, 63, had a string of farming properties that stretched to the center of the state. South Fork was within the panhandle, however Linzer lived along with his household in Stephenville, close to Fort Value, practically 300 miles away.

The textual content message on April 10 buzzed with urgency. A hearth had damaged out on the farm.

Ezra Linzer, manager at South Fork Dairy, stands next to some of the dairy's cows. A major fire at the dairy in April 2023 killed nearly 18,000 cows.

Ezra Linzer, supervisor at South Fork Dairy, stands subsequent to among the dairy’s cows. A significant hearth on the dairy in April 2023 killed practically 18,000 cows.

In all his years managing farms, Linzer thought, there had by no means been a fireplace on any of them. He imagined a small hay hearth in a distant nook of the property.

Go assist put it out, he instructed.

The subsequent textual content he received was much more perplexing: You don’t perceive. The entire thing’s on hearth.

His telephone buzzed once more, this time with an incoming FaceTime name request. The video name lit up the display screen.

Within the shaky livestream, Linzer noticed flames racing by the whole thing of the cross-vent barn and thick columns of black smoke pouring out of the construction.

“I wasn’t positive if I used to be dreaming,” Linzer recalled later.

He left his son, jumped into his truck and raced northwest.

Because the Texas sky darkened, a sickening thought turned in Linzer’s thoughts: the farm that his father-in-law, Model, had labored his complete life to construct, was going up in flames. He gunned the truck more durable.

Linzer couldn’t fathom how the fireplace – one thing he had imagined as a far-off hay pile – might have began, or grown so giant. However the warning might need been parked proper outdoors the barn for months.


The April hearth was not the primary time a manure vacuum truck caught hearth at South Fork Dairy. In January, a dairy employee had been releasing captured manure from one of many farm’s different Mensch vacuum vehicles right into a lagoon on the property when that truck caught hearth, in response to Model.

Manure vacuum vehicles have been sucking up cattle droppings on farms for many years. However in an trade that regulates nearly all the pieces concerning the security and purity of its output – milk – there is no such thing as a obvious knowledge about accidents, accidents or malfunctions of the gear that manages its different output.

No identified federal company regulates or tracks manure vacuums. The Occupational Security and Well being Administration, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Shopper Product Security Fee all confirmed they don’t monitor any data on manure vacuum vehicles, at the same time as they compile knowledge on tractor accidents and different farm-related incidents.

Mary Ann Sabo, a spokeswoman for Mensch, mentioned the corporate has by no means had a declare for faulty gear that led to a fireplace and no recollects due to issues over hearth security within the firm’s practically 4 many years of existence.

“We now have a powerful monitor file of manufacturing secure, dependable and high quality gear for the dairy trade – and we take nice delight in making the very best quality gear available on the market,” Sabo mentioned.

In 2019, one other Mensch manure vacuum truck caught hearth on a dairy barn in japanese South Dakota, in response to native media stories. No individuals or livestock had been damage in that fireside.

The January hearth at South Fork drew no public consideration. Nobody was injured. Farm staff parked the scorched truck east of the barn. They eliminated a few of its tires for reuse. Apart from that, they let it sit.

A photo from the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office report shows a Mensch manure vacuum truck parked on the east side of the barn, a vacuum truck that previously caught fire three months before the April 2023 fire.

A photograph from the Texas State Hearth Marshal’s Workplace report reveals a Mensch manure vacuum truck parked on the east facet of the barn, a vacuum truck that beforehand caught hearth three months earlier than the April 2023 hearth.

Three months later, Juan Gutierrez climbed into the cab of the farm’s different Mensch vacuum truck. This time, he wasn’t outdoors on the holding lagoon, however contained in the barn.

When hearth inspectors interviewed him later, Gutierrez would clarify that after he noticed the flames, he first tried to drive the truck out of the slim confines of the alley however couldn’t make it. One other worker, Nicolas Uriate, rushed over with a fireplace extinguisher, however collectively they couldn’t quench the fireplace.

As they examined the April catastrophe, hearth inspectors made their method to the east facet of the barn, the place the Mensch truck from January remained parked.

They famous how the truck was scorched alongside the motive force’s facet on the rear compartment, the place the 6.7-liter diesel engine drives each the wheels and the vacuum.

“The harm was constant,” they wrote, “with what the motive force of the manure truck on the night time of the fireplace defined had occurred.”

Model mentioned investigators for his insurance coverage firm are nonetheless investigating the vehicles and the exact reason for the fireplace.

Whether or not or not any regulatory physique begins monitoring manure vacuum truck security, or if producers discover or acknowledge any shortcomings, the vehicles are anticipated to seem in additional farms throughout America. And people farms are rising.

Constructing a large farm

Eltje Frans Model grew up round cows on his household’s small dairy farm within the Netherlands. In 1984, at 24 years outdated, he joined a wave of Dutch farmers who left behind the fertile lowlands of the Netherlands for cheaper, greener pastures within the U.S.

Entrance of South Fork Dairy near Dimmitt, Texas.

Entrance of South Fork Dairy close to Dimmitt, Texas.

He began small, with simply 40 cows, on a farm in East Texas. Over time, that grew right into a 1,000-cow farm, he mentioned in an interview with USA TODAY.

In time, he oversaw a number of farms along with his spouse, Joni Ann. Daughters labored at his principal workplaces in Power, Texas, and Model enlisted a son-in-law and one other daughter to work a farm he owns in New Mexico, as properly his different son-in-law, Linzer.

In 2019, the chance arose to open a a lot bigger farm in Castro County, the place land was cheaper and irrigation higher fitted to elevating cows, Model mentioned. After securing a 640-acre stretch of land south of Dimmitt, within the Texas Excessive Plains, he set his sights on a lot greater herds.

The signature piece of South Fork Dairy was the expansive cross-ventilation barn, a technologically superior, climate-controlled holding pen for his milking cows.

View of half-demolished cross-ventilation barn at South Fork Dairy, where a fire originated and where most of the cows died. A major fire at the dairy in April 2023 killed nearly 18,000 cows.

View of half-demolished cross-ventilation barn at South Fork Dairy, the place a fireplace originated and the place many of the cows died. A significant hearth on the dairy in April 2023 killed practically 18,000 cows.

The enclosed barn, the place the majority of the farm’s cows would reside whereas being milked, featured two rows of industrial-sized exhaust followers on the east facet of the constructing, which sucked stale air out and stored a continuing breeze by the construction, and a heavy curtain on the west finish that  opened or closed remotely relying on outdoors climate.

Excessive-pressure misters stored cows cool throughout summer time’s broiling warmth, and the curtains and followers stored the barn’s inside hotter in winter, Model mentioned.

From his principal workplace 300 miles away, south of Fort Value, Model had hands-on management of the barn’s curtains, followers and misters and a monitor for the constructing’s temperature – all from an app on his iPad.


Castro County wasn’t all the time thought-about dairyland. Perched within the Texas Excessive Plains, the county sits on an ocean of yellow prairie grass stretching to every horizon and punctuated by the occasional farmhouse, grain silo or towering wind turbine.

Osterkamp Dairy cows feed in Castro County, Texas.

Osterkamp Dairy cows feed in Castro County, Texas.

Dimmitt, the county seat, gives a mattress and breakfast, taquerias, a Subway sandwich store, a Sonic and never a lot else however the ever-present scent of manure.

Cattle ranches have operated in Castro County and close by Hereford, for generations, however the dairy farms didn’t begin arriving till the early 2000s.

Dairy producers from California and East Texas began shifting to the area, drawn to the world’s low-cost land, former Dimmitt Mayor Roger Malone mentioned.

Latinos additionally outnumber Anglos within the county by greater than 2 to 1 as they’ve stepped into roles of milkers, ranch fingers and different jobs on the farms.

As of November, Castro was the fourth-biggest milk producing county in Texas, with 14 dairies churning out greater than 13 million gallons of milk a month, in response to the U.S. Division of Agriculture.

“It’s a enterprise,” Malone mentioned. “It’s an enormous enterprise.”

A sign welcomes people to Dimmitt, Texas.

An indication welcomes individuals to Dimmitt, Texas.

One of many newer arrivals in Castro County is the Osterkamp Dairy, on the county’s western fringe.

Mark Osterkamp and his household moved their dairy from Southern California to Castro County in 2003, beginning with 1,800 cows and elevating the herd to three,000.

On a current afternoon there, staff dropped hay bales into feeding pens as cows waddled in for an early dinner. In contrast to South Fork, Oskterkamp’s principally Holstein cows reside principally outdoors.

Osterkamp mentioned he, like others, was surprised by the information of the South Fork Dairy hearth – and the sheer scope of the carnage. Such a loss would derail most smaller dairies, he mentioned.

“How do you maintain that type of loss?” Osterkamp mentioned, as he drove his truck across the 100-acre farm, checking on milking cows, heifers and calves. “It was like one thing out of a film.”

Mark Osterkamp, owner of Osterkamp Dairy in Castro County, Texas.

Mark Osterkamp, proprietor of Osterkamp Dairy in Castro County, Texas.

Oskterkamp mentioned Model was investing within the newest know-how in elevating milk cows and was working at a scale that dwarfed the opposite giant dairies within the space.

South Fork’s cross-ventilated barn was thought-about cutting-edge and a vanguard of recent milk manufacturing amongst Texas dairy producers, mentioned Darren Turley, government director of the Texas Affiliation of Dairymen.

Model “did all the pieces that was obtainable available in the market to advance how he might handle his cows,” he mentioned. “That was the most recent, most fashionable method to do it.”


Model’s companies remained family-run, differing from corporate-run farms that usually draw the ire of environmentalists. He wouldn’t disclose the funds of his privately held dairies. However there’s little query that South Fork was among the many largest.

The development towards bigger CAFOs, outlined by the EPA as having 1,000 or extra animals, might imply fewer farms whole, activists and analysts mentioned. However every farm is greater than ever.

In Texas, the variety of dairy farms has truly shrunk dramatically over time, from 1,924 in 1994 to 299 in 2023, in response to the USDA. But in that very same interval, the whole variety of milk cows within the state rose from about 402,000 to 646,000.

Activists say these huge operations elbow out smaller, conventional farms. Additionally they say bigger herds imply doubtlessly bigger disasters.

The Animal Welfare Institute has tracked 6.6 million animals, together with chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows, killed in barn fires since 2013.

“Due to the massive operations, the demise tolls maintain rising,” mentioned Allie Granger, a senior coverage affiliate on the institute. The South Fork Dairy hearth, she mentioned, “was unprecedented. I don’t assume there’s ever been something even near this fireplace.”


Model began South Fork with 8,000 cows in 2020, a mixture of Holstein and Jersey cows, then added 9,500 the next yr, bringing his herd as much as 17,500 cows.

Whereas the cross-vent barn was the signature characteristic, the remainder of the operation was comparably high-tech.

Connected to the barn was the milking parlor. Right here, cows had been led onto giant, slowly rotating platforms. The cows slipped into particular person pens on the platform and, because the platform slowly turned, assembly-line model, a group of rubber-gloved-and-aproned feminine staff would wipe down every cow’s udder and connect mechanical suction cups – generally known as “the claw” – to every of the cow’s teats, drawing out milk.

The cows transfer whereas the employees keep in place. By the point the platform made a full flip, every udder was emptied. The cows are then led off the platform and a brand new batch climb aboard.

Operating 24/7, the farm made sufficient milk to fill 24 semi-trailers every day. It was the crown jewel of a family-run operation, based by an immigrant farmer, main a rising trade in conventional cattle nation, in a enterprise so central to its area that it defines the very scent of the breeze.

Nevertheless it was additionally a foray into cutting-edge know-how, together with a biogas system that was on the books for the farm however had not but been put in.

Then got here the night of April 10, when Model, like his son-in-law, received phrase of a hearth.

He reached for his iPad to verify the barn’s temperature and fan velocity. The readings had stopped working.

A plume of smoke

Castro County Sheriff Salvador Rivera was on a routine night time patrol, driving north by the county, when he glanced into the rearview mirror. His coronary heart leaped. An enormous plume of black smoke was rising from the horizon round a half-mile behind him. He turned his car round and headed towards the smoke.

The primary emergency responder to reach on the scene, Rivera pulled into the South Fork Dairy complicated as the fireplace tore by the cross-ventilation barn and found a scene of pure chaos.

A photo from the Texas State Fire Marshal's report shows mounds of dead cows from the South Fork Dairy fire in April 2023.

A photograph from the Texas State Hearth Marshal’s report reveals mounds of lifeless cows from the South Fork Dairy hearth in April 2023.

Staff pulled singed cows out of the barn or staggered round, confused. Some squatted on the grime and cried.

Contained in the barn, the fireplace had jumped into the spray foam insulation overhead – put in within the ceiling to maintain cows cool within the withering Texas warmth – and was falling off in giant, glowing tongues, burning cows alive.

“It went from unhealthy to worse in a matter of seconds,” Rivera mentioned.

The sheriff discovered a supervisor who supplied an inventory of the 18 staff who had been on shift that night time. Slowly, they accounted for everybody – apart from one: A lady who had been a part of the four-person group within the milking parlor had gone to the lavatory simply as the fireplace started. When she emerged, smoke and flame had engulfed the constructing and he or she locked herself again into the lavatory.

One of many staff referred to as the girl on her cellphone. Rivera and others took turns urging her to come back out, however she was confused and scared.

Then the road went silent. She had handed out.


On the day the fireplace began, South Fork Dairy was amassing its cow manure to be saved in an outside lagoon. However that was not the final word plan.

Model informed USA TODAY that his dairy was within the strategy of constructing a biogas digester, in partnership with California-based Clear Power Fuels.

He was a part of a rising development. As of January 2023, 343 biogas digesters had been working throughout the U.S., up from simply 37 in 2003, with one other 86 underneath development, in response to the U.S. Environmental Safety Company.

Almost all of these – 290 – are on dairy farms.

“It’s an incredible deal,” mentioned Mark Sustaire, 54, who just lately put in a digester on his dairy farm in northeast Texas and feeds it meals scraps and cow dung. “You’re taking a product that will find yourself in a landfill and dairy manure and utilizing it to energy individuals’s companies and warmth their properties.”

However the digesters incentivize giant farms to extend herd sizes to promote their waste, basically paying large-scale polluters to create greater methane-laced messes then clear them up, mentioned Rebecca Wolf, senior meals coverage analyst on the Meals & Water Watch, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group.

Giant farms additionally hurt surrounding communities, largely full of individuals of coloration, with pollutant runoff and aquifer contamination, she mentioned. “The larger the farm, the larger the environmental problem,” Wolf mentioned.

Gary Foster, a Clear Power spokesman, mentioned digesters the corporate installs on farms usually price $20 million to $70 million to construct. The corporate had signed an settlement with South Fork Dairy however the power agency had not began development on the venture, he mentioned.

Foster disagreed with the premise that digesters are incentivizing dairies to develop greater and, doubtlessly, extra susceptible to large-scale accidents.

“The farmers aren’t getting wealthy off these tasks,” he mentioned. “What these tasks present is a small, steady income stream to assist offset the acute volatility of milk costs, and the method of cleansing up manure, recaptures water to be used in rising dairy crops in addition to dry bedding for the cows (which helps maintain them wholesome).”

He restated Clear Power’s dedication to farms such because the South Fork Dairy.

“The hearth on the dairy was tragic, however Frank Model and his group are among the greatest operators within the dairy enterprise and we’ve got full confidence in his dedication to security,” Foster mentioned.

The digesters might price tens of tens of millions of {dollars} to put in – however farmers aren’t footing the invoice alone. Chevron, BP and different power giants are pouring billions of {dollars} into dairy digesters as a method to reduce on greenhouse gases, equivalent to methane, whereas producing biogas. The power firms usually pay a lot of the startup price of set up, then take a proportion of the income from the transformed biogas that’s piped out of the digester. Dairies also can capitalize on federal subsidies provided to digester producers.

The fast tempo of biogas digesters showing on farms prompted a bunch of U.S. lawmakers, together with Sens. Corey Booker, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, to ship a letter in August 2022 to the top of the U.S. Environmental Safety Company, urging the company to gradual the incentives across the digesters.

“Manufacturing facility farms produce immense portions of waste and pollution that gasoline local weather change and pollute the encircling soil, air, and water − merely residing in proximity to a manufacturing facility farm can lower life expectancy,” the letter learn.


Rivera jogged from employee to employee on the burning farm, attempting to decipher easy methods to rescue the trapped employee.

A photo from the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office report shows fans in the cross-ventilation barn melted from the fire.

A photograph from the Texas State Hearth Marshal’s Workplace report reveals followers within the cross-ventilation barn melted from the fireplace.

Simply then, a group from the Dimmitt Volunteer Hearth Division arrived on the scene. Rivera and the dairy staff had been capable of inform them the place, precisely, the trapped girl was. The firefighters pulled on their bunker gear and rushed into the smoking constructing. Minutes later, they emerged with the unconscious girl.

She was taken to a hospital in close by Lubbock, handled and launched a number of days later. (Model declined to establish the employee, citing privateness issues.)

“Good factor we received her and he or she was capable of survive,” Rivera mentioned. “Thank God no (individual) died.”

Linzer arrived on the scene round 11 p.m. – he had raced throughout rural highways, protecting greater than 300 miles in simply over three hours.

Firefighters doused the final of the remaining embers. The scene was staggering: Mounds of lifeless, blackened cows littered the farm. Rivulets of blood flowed from their carcasses. Some writhed in ache, badly burned and incapacitated however nonetheless alive, and needed to be euthanized.

The barn’s followers, which had stored the cows snug in harsh climate, had been blackened and melted from the blaze.

After inquiring concerning the workers, Linzer felt surprised by the sheer scope of the catastrophe, he mentioned. All 17,500 cows had been both lifeless or dying.

“It was terrible,” he mentioned. “We had a number of cows that perished that night time.”


For the next few days, Linzer was put in control of overseeing the grisly activity of disposing of the cow carcasses. Supervised by a state environmental official, staff on the dairy loaded the carcasses into semi-trailer vehicles and ferried them about 6 miles down the street to a different Model-owned property, Linzer mentioned. There, the cows had been buried in three huge pits.

Model mentioned he and different staff had been emotionally wrecked by the occasion. He, like Linzer, left residence and drove a number of hours to succeed in Dimmit that night time. He mentioned he considers himself fortunate to not have arrived on the dairy whereas the fireplace nonetheless raged, as a result of he would have rushed into the barn to attempt to save the cows – and certain would have died within the blaze himself, he mentioned.

“The one loss that might’ve been worse was shedding my household,” Model mentioned. “The ache was so large with this complete factor.”

After the cows had been cleared and the particles piled up, the Model household made a fast resolution. “There was by no means any doubt we might rebuild,” Linzer mentioned. “Can’t let hearth win.”

The personal farm’s funds stay principally out of view, and Model wouldn’t touch upon how a lot it will price to rebuild.

The state’s hearth inspectors, in concluding the fireplace was an accident, appeared to acknowledge their report wouldn’t essentially be the top of the story.

“I perceive that there can be a number of hearth investigators and attorneys representing the insurance coverage firms, gear producers, constructing elements, and injured workers for the aim of subrogation and private harm” investigator Kelly Vandygriff wrote. “Due to this, we restricted our investigation to the fundamentals of figuring out the origin and reason for the fireplace.”

Model and Linzer have their very own conclusions concerning the hearth.

Model mentioned the manure vacuum vehicles needs to be higher inspected. “Multiples of those machines have caught hearth,” he mentioned. “They must be checked out.”

He additionally believes the spray foam insulation contained in the barn needs to be higher regulated – a sentiment echoed by his son-in-law.

By December, a tour of South Fork revealed a burned-out, half-demolished barn; blackened ceilings; piles of discarded insulation. It additionally confirmed a functioning dairy, nonetheless at work.

About 4,000 Holstein and Jersey cows now wander and low in a salvaged part of the burned-out cross-ventilation barn – indicators of the dairy’s restocking of its herd.

View of half-demolished cross-ventilation barn at South Fork Dairy, where fire originated and where most of the cows died. A major fire at the dairy in April 2023 killed nearly 18,000 cows.

View of half-demolished cross-ventilation barn at South Fork Dairy, the place hearth originated and the place many of the cows died. A significant hearth on the dairy in April 2023 killed practically 18,000 cows.

Greater than half of the barn has been demolished to make manner for a brand new construction, nonetheless within the planning levels. One of many two rotary platforms within the milk parlor is again in operation and cows are guided on continuously to empty udders.

Model mentioned he’s in no hurry to rebuild – ensuring they create a extra fire-resistant barn – and should not repopulate his herd to fairly the identical numbers as earlier than.

“I don’t ever need to see something like this once more,” Model mentioned.

A few of his plans stay on monitor.

Shortly after the fireplace, the Texas Fee on Environmental High quality granted South Fork Dairy approval to put in its deliberate digester. Clear Power Fuels nonetheless plans to construct it.

One allow from the state company allowed the farm to broaden its herd measurement to 32,000, which might make it one of many largest dairies in Texas.

Cows feed at South Fork Dairy near Dimmitt, Texas. A major fire at the dairy in April 2023 killed nearly 18,000 cows.

Cows feed at South Fork Dairy close to Dimmitt, Texas. A significant hearth on the dairy in April 2023 killed practically 18,000 cows.

Sometime quickly, with the fireplace lengthy over, the headlines forgotten, the barn rebuilt and the gasoline digester pumping, the indicators of April’s catastrophe could also be absolutely out of sight.

However in Castro County, the breeze all the time tells a narrative.

It has been months for the reason that lifeless cows had been hauled off, buried within the pits on the sister property down the street. However when the wind shifts simply so, farm staff nonetheless detect a whiff of the charred, decaying carcasses.

“It’s demise,” Linzer mentioned. “You had a number of cows in a concentrated space that perished. You’re going to have that scent linger.”

This text initially appeared on USA TODAY: Dimmitt, Texas, dairy farm explosion: How 18,000 cows died in one fire

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