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Texas legislative committee to investigate cause of Panhandle wildfires

The panel of three lawmakers and two residents will also look at disaster preparedness.
Posted: 12:24 PM, Mar 12, 2024
Updated: 2024-03-12 13:24:48-04
Charred ground left by the Smokehouse Creek fire Sunday, March. 3, 2024, after it burned through Currie Smith’s ranch in Hemphill County.

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LUBBOCK (Texas Tribune) — Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan is creating a legislative committee to investigate the Texas Panhandle wildfires to ensure the state is prepared for future disasters. His Tuesday announcement comes more than two weeks after the deadly infernos first started burning more than 1 million acres in the region.

The Investigative Committee on the Panhandle Wildfires will have five members, including state Reps. Ken King of Canadian, Dustin Burrows of Lubbock and Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi. Jason Abraham and Ashley Cash are also listed as public members of the committee.

[Texas wildfires: how to help and how to stay safe]

The panel will investigate what contributed to the wildfires, the allocation of response resources and effectiveness of wildfire disaster preparedness. It will also look into the coordination between local, state, and federal government agencies about prevention, disaster preparedness and response.

Last week, the Texas A&M Forest Service said its investigators determined that power lines caused the Smokehouse Creek fire, but didn’t detail how. Utility company Xcel Energy said it appeared that its equipment was involved in igniting that blaze, but denied it was negligent in maintaining power lines. Residents and business owners have since filed lawsuits against the company.

Hundreds of homes are believed to have been damaged or destroyed in the series of wildfires that have devastated the region. Many homes weren’t insured. Thousands of livestock died and crops throughout the area were destroyed. The infernos wrought havoc on the ecosystem farmers and ranchers need to make a living.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into the fires earlier this month when he was in Canadian, where the Smokehouse Creek fire left much of Hemphill County in ruins. The fire, which is the largest in Texas history, started on Feb. 26 along with a string of others that have left the region in devastation.

The new House committee is expected to issue a report on its work by May 1.

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"Texas legislative committee to investigate cause of Panhandle wildfires" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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