DALLAS -

Big Tex, the towering metal cowboy whose slow drawl of "Howdy, folks!" made him an icon of the State Fair of Texas for more than half a century, was damaged Friday when flames engulfed his 52-foot-tall frame.

Some material that made up Big Tex's hands and sleeves could still be seen as firefighters gathered around the scorched area.

This year's fair, which closes Sunday, had been celebrating the 60th birthday of the cowboy who sports a 75-gallon hat and a 50-pound belt buckle. He has a 31-foot chest, a 10-foot neck and 12.5-foot shoulders.

"It's a great loss for us because of its icon stature," fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said.

Investigators said they believe that the fire may have been caused by an electrical short that started in his right boot. Electrical controls move Big Tex's mouth and head.

Stanley Hill, who supervises a food stand that has been located near the structure for 18 years, said he noticed smoke coming from Big Tex's neck area. "I couldn't believe it," Hill said.

He said Big Tex burned up in about 15 minutes, and then the fire department came and extinguished the remaining flames.

Gooding noted that no one was injured in the fire and added that she expects Big Tex to be back for next year's state fair.

"He'll be back, bigger and better than ever," she said.

Big Tex was actually built in 1949 as a giant Santa Claus for a Christmas celebration in Kerens, 60 miles south of Dallas. Intrigued by the idea of a towering cowboy, the State Fair paid $750 for the structure, which debuted as Big Tex in 1952.

Big Tex is inextricably linked to the State Fair. The State Fair website is www.bigtex.com and visitors to the site see their cursor turn into an image of Big Tex's head, clad in a cowboy hat. The fair's Twitter account feature's the cowboy's image as well.

On Friday, the area around Big Tex was cordoned off, but the fair was going on as normal around it.

What's left of Big Tex has been removed from his post so he can be restored. Fair officials said they expect him to be ready to go for the 2013 State Fair.

Photos: Big Tex destroyed by fire

Published On: Oct 19 2012 11:04:55 AM CDT   Updated On: Oct 19 2012 11:57:53 AM CDT

Big Tex, an iconic statue at the State Fair, was destroyed by fire.

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B.J. Bonnett