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Utility company says its facilities ‘appear to have been involved’ in start of Smokehouse Creek fire in Texas

The utility company that provides power to most of the Texas Panhandle says its facilities appear to have played a role in the start of the state’s largest-ever wildfire, which incinerated over one million acres and left residents sifting through the destruction of their homes.

“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 Thursday news release.

The cause of the fire, which has burned more than a million acres in Texas and Oklahoma, has not been officially determined. The fire was one of five burning across the Panhandle that wrought destruction on the land and residents this past week.

Melanie McQuiddy, a woman whose home was destroyed in the wildfire, filed a lawsuit alleging that a fallen power pole started the blaze.

McQuiddy’s attorney, Mikal Watts, told CNN they used “fire patterns” to trace the start of the fire to a specific wooden utility pole and accused Xcel and a subcontractor of negligence in inspecting the integrity of the pole.

In her lawsuit, McQuiddy alleges the pole, which the companies “failed to properly inspect, maintain, and replace, splintered, and snapped off at its base” on February 26, causing the fire.

“Xcel Energy disputes claims that it 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 company’s Thursday news release said.

Xcel said that 47 occupied homes in Hemphill County were destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek fire, along with another 17 in Roberts County. The utility says the number of occupied homes destroyed by the fire in Hutchinson County is still being determined.

Around 500 homes and structures have been destroyed by the five blazes tearing across the Panhandle, state officials said.

Utility workers from Xcel Energy labor on power lines near a home destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek fire, on February. 29 in Stinnett, Texas. - Julio Cortez/AP
Utility workers from Xcel Energy labor on power lines near a home destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek fire, on February. 29 in Stinnett, Texas. - Julio Cortez/AP

The Smokehouse Creek fire has destroyed 1,059,570 acres and is 44% contained, the Texas A&M Forest Service said early Thursday. The fire has killed at least two people and extended into Oklahoma, where it has destroyed more than 31,500 acres.

Along with the four other blazes, the Smokehouse Creek fire delivered a devastating blow to ranchers as thousands of cattle were killed and many more had to be put down due to sustaining burns to hooves, making them unlikely to survive.

“The people in this region are our friends, neighbors and relatives,” Xcel CEO Bob Frenzel said. “We are deeply saddened by the losses incurred in this community, and we are committed to supporting its renewal and recovery.”

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