UNITED STATES NEWS

Power lines ignited the largest wildfire in Texas history and one nearby, officials say

Mar 7, 2024, 8:14 AM

Power lines ignited massive wildfires across the Texas Panhandle that killed at least two people, destroyed homes and livestock, and left a charred landscape, officials said Thursday, including the largest blaze in state history.

The Texas A&M Forest Service said its investigators concluded that power lines ignited both the historic Smokehouse Creek fire, which has burned nearly 1,700 square miles (4,400 square kilometers) and spilled into neighboring Oklahoma, and the nearby Windy Deuce fire, which has burned about 225 square miles (582 square kilometers). The statement did not elaborate on what led to the power lines igniting the blazes.

Utility provider Xcel Energy said its equipment appeared to have sparked the Smokehouse Creek fire. The Minnesota-based company said in the news release that it did not believe its equipment caused the ignition of the Windy Deuce fire, nor was it aware of any allegations that it had. A company spokesman said in an email that there are power lines owned and operated by various companies in that area.

The wildfires that ignited last week in the windswept rural area prompted evacuations in a handful of small communities, destroyed as many as 500 structures and killed thousands of cattle. When the blazes began on Feb. 26, winds in the area were reaching upwards of 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour). Those strong winds, along with dry grass and temperatures reaching into the 70s and 80s fed the flames.

Containment levels have been increasing. The Smokehouse Creek fire was 74% contained Thursday, while the Windy Deuce fire was 89%. But the Forest Service warned that high winds were expected to be moving across the dry landscape, increasing fire danger.

Downed power lines and other utility equipment have led to other major wildfires, including the deadly blaze in Maui last year and a massive California wildfire in 2019.

A lawsuit filed last week in Hemphill County alleged that a downed power line near the town of Stinnett on Feb. 26 sparked the Smokehouse Creek fire. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Stinnett homeowner against Xcel Energy, alleged the blaze started “when a wooden pole defendants failed to properly inspect, maintain and replace, splintered and snapped off at its base.”

In its Thursday news release, Xcel Energy disputed claims of negligence in maintaining and operating infrastructure.

In a statement that followed Xcel Energy’s news release, Mikal Watts, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the homeowner, said that an inspection Wednesday of the downed utility pole found “a heavily degraded wooden pole that should have been removed from service long ago.” He said the company that conducts pole inspections for Xcel Energy previously found the pole’s condition to be so degraded that it put a red tag on it to signify that it wasn’t safe to be climbed and needed to be replaced immediately.

Xcel did not immediately respond to those comments from Watts.

Two women were confirmed killed by the wildfires last week, one who was overtaken by flames south of Canadian after getting out of her truck and another whose remains were found in her burned home in Stinnett. On Tuesday, the fire chief in one of the hardest hit towns died while responding to a house fire. An official said that while the blaze wasn’t caused by a wildfire, Fritch Fire Chief Zeb Smith had been tirelessly fighting wildfires for over a week. An autopsy will determine Smith’s cause of death.

The small town of Fritch, which lost hundreds of homes in a 2014 wildfire, saw dozens more destroyed last week. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week ordered that flags in Fritch be lowered to half-staff to honor Smith.

The Associated Press has requested the full reports from the Forest Service on the causes of the Smokehouse Creek and Windy Deuce fires.

Dale Smith, who operates a large ranch east of Stinnett, worked last week to tally up the number of cattle he lost in the wildfires. He said then that he believed a faulty power line was likely to blame, and that he had been concerned about their maintenance.

“These fires are becoming a regular occurrence,” he said. “Lives are being lost. Livestock are being lost. Livelihoods are being lost. It’s a sad story that repeats itself again and again.”

___

Associated Press journalist Sean Murphy contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.

United States News

Associated Press

What to know about Evan Gershkovich’s conviction for espionage in Russia

The trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich ended Friday with his conviction on espionage charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government have dismissed as fabricated. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Here’s what we know about the secretive process. Where was the trial he ld? It took place in […]

12 minutes ago

Associated Press

Former Trump executive Allen Weisselberg released from jail after serving perjury sentence

NEW YORK (AP) — Retired Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg was released from New York City’s Rikers Island jail on Friday after serving a sentence for lying under oath, according to online records. The former chief financial officer at Donald Trump’s real estate company pleaded guilty in March to committing perjury during his testimony in […]

55 minutes ago

FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference in Miami, on May 9, 2023. The Trea...

Associated Press

The Treasury Department warns that an anti-woke Florida banking law is a national security risk

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department is warning that state laws that restrict banks from considering environmental, social and governance factors could harm efforts to address money laundering and terrorism financing. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter sent Thursday to lawmakers. The letter singled out a law signed by Florida Gov. Ron […]

1 hour ago

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands listening to the verdict in a glass cage of a ...

Associated Press

Long before his arrest, US reporter lamented that many friends in Russia were being locked up

In early 2022, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich wrote on social media that “reporting on Russia is now also a regular practice of watching people you know get locked away for years.” A year later, he was the one locked up — arrested in March 2023 on charges of spying that his employer and […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Accused of biting police official, NYC Council member says police were the aggressors

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City Council member accused of biting a police official complained Thursday that officers used excessive force as she strove to help someone who was lying under a barricade at a protest. Brooklyn Democrat Susan Zhuang didn’t address the biting allegation as she gave her version of the encounter, […]

1 hour ago

FILE - In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, Aviation Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Nicholas Hawkin...

Associated Press

Massachusetts lawmakers call on the Pentagon to ground the Osprey again until crash causes are fixed

WASHINGTON (AP) — Three Massachusetts lawmakers are pressing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to ground the V-22 Osprey aircraft again until the military can identify the root causes of multiple recent accidents, including a deadly crash in Japan. In a letter sent to Austin on Thursday, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Rep. Richard […]

1 hour ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 storylines to get you revved up for the 2024 Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals training camp is just a couple weeks away starting on July 25, and Sanderson Ford is revved up and ready to go.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

Power lines ignited the largest wildfire in Texas history and one nearby, officials say