Two scorched arms and a metal frame are all that remains of Big Tex, a 52-foot-tall cowboy statue that welcomed visitors to the State Fair of Texas, after the local icon burned like a towering torch Friday.
Big Tex erupted in flames around 10:15 a.m., officials said. In a video recorded by the Dallas Morning News, fair visitor Lynda Kingsley recalled smoke starting around Big Tex's collar before its whole body was engulfed in flames.
"You just saw the flames pretty much everywhere," Kingsley told the newspaper. "He just went up in a 'poof.'"
The Morning News posted audio from the unusual dispatch that brought firefighters to the fairgrounds in Dallas.
"We got a rather tall cowboy, all his clothes burned off," the dispatcher said.
According to the fair's website, Big Tex had just turned 60. It had been upgraded over the years with minor facial reconstruction and mechanical fixes. Its signature "How-dee, folks!" greeting was added after a year on the job.
Lt. Joel Lavender of Dallas Fire-Rescue said the loss of the famed statue didn't hit him until he arrived at the fairgrounds.
"I've been here a little over 30 years, I never seen anything like it," he said. "I think it for me it's just the shock of the moment. I already knew what had happened when I got there, but when I saw it firsthand, it brought back memories."
Lavender said coordination between police, fire and fair officials kept attendees out of harm's way while the fire was extinguished. An investigation is underway to determine the cause.
State Fair President Errol McKoy vowed Big Tex would return for 2013's fair. But will it be the same beloved Tex?
"Big Tex may be different next time," Lavender said in a statement. "I'm sure that may cause some challenges; we really like things the way they were."
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