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Xcel Energy acknowledges role in Texas’ Smokehouse Creek wildfire

The Smokehouse Creek Fire has grown to be the largest in state history.
Posted: 9:33 AM, Mar 07, 2024
Updated: 2024-03-07 10:33:45-05
A drone view shows firefighters spraying trees with water after the Smokehouse Creek fire burned through the area in Roberts County, on Feb. 28, 2024.

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(Texas Tribune) — Xcel Energy on Thursday acknowledged its involvement in the Smokehouse Creek Fire, which started last week and quickly became the largest wildfire in state history, burning more than 1 million acres.

“Based on currently available information, Xcel Energy acknowledges that its facilities appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire,” the company said in a statement Thursday.

Xcel said its has been cooperating with investigations into the wildfires and conducting its own review of the incident since it started. However, the company disputed claims in the same statement that the company acted negligently in maintaining and operating its infrastructure.

“However, we encourage people who had property destroyed by or livestock lost in the Smokehouse Creek fire to submit a claim to Xcel Energy through our claims process,” the statement says.

Last week, Xcel Energy revealed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that attorneys asked the company to preserve a fallen utility pole near where the fire may have started.

In the SEC filing, Xcel Energy said that “investigations into origin, cause, and damage of the wildland fires burning in or near the service territory of SPS, including the Smokehouse Creek Fire, are underway.” The company also said it is working with emergency responders to assist those impacted by the fires.

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

A lawsuit filed last week by homeowners accused the power company of neglecting to maintain power lines.

Homeowner Melanie McQuiddy filed the initial lawsuit against the company in Hemphill County on Friday, claiming that a splintered pole ignited the fire when it fell. On Saturday, Canadian businessman Salem Abraham told The Texas Tribune of his plans to file a suit this month against Xcel and Osmose Utility Services, a Georgia-base company that inspects Xcel's equipment, over the pole for damages to his ranch and his brother’s land.

Abraham’s lawyer Kevin Isern, of the Amarillo law firm Lovell, Isern & Farabough, told the Tribune they are thankful Xcel is acknowledging “what we already know is true.”

“The issue now becomes, did the fire start from a lack of their oversight, or lack of oversight of one of their subcontractors?" Isern asked.

Isern said they are preparing to file four lawsuits Thursday, and possibly more next week. Isern said he would like to see lawmakers pass legislation to make companies more responsible for their equipment in a vulnerable area.

"There needs to be more oversight of electric, oil and gas companies that provide this type of service," Isern said. "We live in a tinderbox ready to go up at any time, and they know it."

Xcel also mentioned the Windy Deuce fire, the second large fire threatening the Panhandle last week. Xcel said they do not believe their facilities caused that fire and are not aware of any allegations.

Xcel Energy’s subsidiary Southwestern Public Service Company serves the area where the fire is burning, according to the SEC filing. The location is outside of the jurisdiction of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the power grid that provides electricity for most of the state.

According to Xcel’s statement, 47 homes in Hemphill County and up to 17 homes in Roberts County were destroyed by the fire.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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"Xcel Energy acknowledges role in Texas’ Smokehouse Creek wildfire" 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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