State Fair: Fire that destroyed Big Tex started in his boot

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by KHOU.com Staff / WFAA.com staff

khou.com

Posted on October 19, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 19 at 5:22 PM

DALLAS - Flames swiftly engulfed Big Tex -- the giant cowboy that greets visitors at the Texas State Fair -- Friday morning. The fire left only a skeletal frame with his hands, arms and belt buckle still intact. 

The State Fair of Texas was celebrating Big Tex's 60th birthday. Emergency scanner chatter lit up around 10:30 a.m. with reports of a "rather tall cowboy with all his clothes burned off." Another voice chimed in soon after, confirming, "We got Big Tex on fire." 

"Howdy folks," another emergency responder said. "It's hot." 

Nearly six hours after smoke began pouring out of Tex, State Fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding confirmed that the fire started in Big Tex's boots. 

"At this point, investigators believe the fire was caused by an electrical short that started in his right boot," she wrote in a statement.

Dallas Fire Rescue quickly responded and put the fire out within a matter of minutes. However, those at the scene said it only took around five minutes for the blaze to quickly swallow the 52-foot figure.

Witnesses said smoke began pouring out of his head and quickly spread to the rest of his body, likely exacerbated by his Dickies clothing. 

"At first I couldn’t believe it, I mean, we were wondering why he was smoking because we all know Big Tex does not smoke," said Jenneth Hickman, who runs a stand near Big Tex Circle. "So we were wondering why he was smoking for." 

There were no injuries reported. Glieber said the unprecedented fire happened at the best possible time; few people were gathered near the State Fair icon when the fire broke out. 

"At this time in the morning, there was not a big crowd around here," he said. "It started and within a five minute period it consumed its body, but that was more than enough time to get everybody out of harm's way." 

Crews brought Big Tex down, covered him and then carted him away from his official spot at Big Tex Circle. They wheeled him out in a giant body bag. Later, mourners placed flowers and wreaths where he stood before the blaze. 

Big Tex has served as the mascot of the fair for dozens of years and was originally created as a 49-foot tall Santa Claus in Kerens, Texas.

He was eventually brought to the Dallas area and sold to the State Fair of Texas for $750. The structure was then transformed to the looming giant that has greeted fairgoers since 1952. In 1953, he talked for the first time, welcoming visitors with a hearty "Howdy."

In 2000, visitors in the 'Million Dollar Midway' saw Big Tex move for the first time with his big wave.

"He is definitely our icon," Glieber said of Big Tex. "He is our Mickey Mouse. It's sad to see, but obviously we will be able to rebuild Big Tex and he'll be back here for sure for the 2013 State Fair of Texas."

In a tweet, Mayor Mike Rawlings said, "Dallas is about Big Things and #BigTex was symbolic of that. We will rebuild Big Tex bigger and better for the 21st Century."

The State Fair of Texas will remain open. Only the area around Big Tex will be closed off to the public. The last day for the fair is Sunday.

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