By Marice Richter
DALLAS (Reuters) - Big Tex, a 52-foot-tall cowboy mascot for the State Fair of Texas, went up in flames on Friday due to a suspected electrical malfunction, reducing the animated structure to little more than a charred skeletal frame.
But the man who gives voice to the mascot said Big Tex, which had been welcoming visitors to the state fair for 60 years often with a wave and a booming "howdy," would be back and all fixed up next year.
Smoke was seen billowing from Big Tex's head on Friday morning, two days before the close of this year's fair. Flames quickly engulfed its body and torched its cowboy hat, face, torso and legs.
"People are walking around the fairgrounds crying," fair spokeswoman Debbie Flatt said. "Big Tex is like family."
The fire is believed to have been caused by an electrical malfunction that started in the figure's boot, fair officials said in a statement.
State Fair crews were able to salvage the mascot's fiberglass hands and belt buckle as well as its 3-ton frame, which is made of 4,200 feet of steel rods, Flatt said.
Bill Bragg, who sits in a room near Big Tex and gives voice to the mascot, told reporters that Big Tex will be back next year.
State Fair workers planted flowers on the mound where Big Tex stood to brighten the entrance of the fairgrounds through Sunday's closing day.
Big Tex debuted at the fair in 1952 after being purchased for $750 from the town of Kerens, where he had a different get-up and a different role as Santa Claus.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Bill Trott)