The state fair faced a rough news cycle Friday, as Big Tex caught fire in the morning and 23 riders were suspended in the air later that night.
Onlookers quickly posted photos as the 52-foot icon’s clothes erupted into flames. Though fire crews arrived on the scene, Tex’s clothes had already been incinerated, and only his metal framework, sleeves, and belt buckle remained.
Sally Wamre, an official at the state fair, said that the electrical components that make Tex move and say “Howdy” most likely failed, causing an electrical short in his right boot. Her statement has not yet been confirmed by the fire marshal. The fire caused by the short quickly spread over his 65 pound jeans as well as his shirt, eventually reaching his head and 75 gallon hat.
No one was injured in the fire.
Big Tex has been removed from the circle he is normally erected in by the large crane that sets him up each year and placed in an area at the rear of the fair. Tex’s face, clothes, pants, boots and hat will need replacing, but Wamre says he will be restored for next year’s fair.
Officials say that Tex was very old, and they may take the chance to construct a bigger, more modern version.
Later that day the Stratosphere, a new ride at the state fair, lost power. The Stratosphere, which can be quickly disassembled and set up in different places like many rides at the state fair, had previously been at the Minnesota state fair and had issues. Wamre said that a licensed safety inspector had been sent to check out that the issues from Minnesota were fixed before the Fair took it, but the issue experienced Friday was a new problem. The power cable on the ride had failed.
Wamre said that State Fair safety inspectors, who run through a manufacturer-produced checklist, check rides daily. After the ride’s failure, riders were left suspended in the air for about 2 hours before being manually cranked to the ground. Wamre said that the chief issue riders experienced during the incident was the chilly air 200 feet above the state fair. After they all safely reached the ground they were taken to a room on site and provided with blankets and hot chocolate.
The fair ends today, without Big Tex or the Stratosphere. However, it will end with an impromptu memorial site outside the circle where Big Tex stood. Fairgoers have laid fried food and flowers there in homage to Big Tex.