DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Those attending the State Fair of Texas on Friday morning got more than they bargained for as the iconic character Big Tex went up in flames. The fire happened at about 10:30 a.m. as the Fair was kicking off its final weekend of the year.
Fair officials initially believed the blaze started in a motor located in the character's neck. "We don't know anything just yet. All we can imagine is that something with the electrical wiring went wrong," said Sally Womre with the State Fair of Texas. "Big Tex is wired to move his head and to speak, so that's what we believe right now."
But Friday afternoon officials determined the fire started with an electrical spark in Big Tex's right boot.
KRLD's Mitch Carr Talks To Fair Spokesperson Sue Gooding:
The fire destroyed all of Big Tex -- except for his hands and shirtsleeves.
Chopper 11 showed Big Tex's charred metal skeleton still standing. "His clothes are gone except for both sleeves," said Womre.
The fire's many witnesses reported seeing smoke rise up from the Texas icon's collar. That smoke then turned darker before flames started shooting out of his head and right leg. Soon, the cowboy's entire body was burning. "It was surreal," recalled witness Allison Griffin. "In fact, a lot of people didn't realize it. People were still standing and taking pictures in front of Big Tex, like you always do. Fair personnel were driving past and, once the fire started, it just grew very quickly and began to engulf his whole body."
Youtube video from a user named Joe Romero shows the fire breaking out slowly, then quickly spreading.
Bill Bragg is the voice of Big Tex. He does not stand near the character, however, and nobody was injured during the fire.
Comments From Bill Bragg:
Still, he was as bothered as anyone by the fire. "I just went out like everyone else and got out my camera, and watched a tradition come to an end."
Big Tex has been greeting State Fair visitors with his signature "Howdy, Folks!" since 1952. This year's Fair was the 60th birthday of the 52-foot-tall cowboy structure. Fair officials just celebrated the character's milestone on Thursday night.
"Most people were just gasping," Griffin said. "Most of us were horrified and looking for the fire department."
Dallas Fire Rescue quickly responded, but not before having a little fun describing their most unusual call.
Audio From Dallas Fire Rescue Dispatch:
Crews took down the burned out remains of Big Tex as a safety precaution, then covered his body before wheeling him away. State Fair officials already promised that Big Tex will be back in time for next year's event:
State Fair president Errol McKoy wants fairgoers to know that he appreciates your kind words and messages. He sends his appreciation to the Dallas Fire Department and the City of Dallas Police Department for their quick response. Mayor Rawlins took time from his busy schedule to appear in person. It is testament to the importance that our icon, Big Tex, has on the city, its citizens, and Texas. For 60 years, Big Tex has served the State Fair of Texas as its official host. He'll be in place next year for the opening of the 2013 season.
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