Utility Says Its Equipment May Have Started Record Texas Fire

A utility company acknowledged on Thursday that its equipment appeared to have started the largest wildfire in Texas’ recorded history, a blaze that began last week and went on to burn more than 1 million acres in the state’s Panhandle region.

Xcel Energy, an electric and gas company that operates in a mostly rural part of Texas, said in a statement that its “facilities appear to have been involved in an ignition” of the blaze, the Smokehouse Creek fire, which has led to two deaths and killed thousands of cattle and other livestock.

The Smokehouse Creek fire is by far the largest of several fires that have charred the Panhandle since last week, leveling homes in and around small towns and spelling potential economic ruin for farmers and ranchers whose land was scorched. Fire officials said on Thursday that the fire was 74 percent contained, but that strong winds could make firefighting difficult in the next few days.

Though the company acknowledged that its infrastructure may have started the fire, Xcel Energy said it did not agree with claims that the company was negligent in operating its equipment.

Some landowners had already accused the company of being responsible for the fire. They say a wooden utility pole near Stinnett, Texas, was blown over by strong winds and set fire to dry brush and grass in the area.

Melanie Lee McQuiddy, a homeowner in Hemphill County, where the Smokehouse Creek fire burned uncontrolled for days across grassland, sued Xcel last week, saying her home was burned in the blaze.

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