New lawsuit blames Smokehouse Creek fire on power company

DeSoto Fire Dept responds to wildfires in Texas' panhandle / Credit: DeSoto Fire Department/Jarrod Wright

HEMPHILL COUNTY - A new lawsuit claims a falling utility pole caused the tragic 1 million-acre Smokehouse Creek fire in the Texas Panhandle.

A system of different wildfires has torn through the Panhandle scorching over 1.2 million acres over the past week.

A woman is suing the Southwestern Public Service Company after her home near Canadian was burned, alleging the Smokehouse Creek fire was caused by human error.

Melanie McQuiddy sued Southwestern Public Service Company, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, and Osmose Utilities Services, a Georgia-based contractor that inspects wood utility poles, late on Friday.

According to McQuiddy's lawsuit, the fire started on February 26 when the pole, which the firms "failed to properly inspect, maintain, and replace," cracked and snapped off at its base.

"As a result of the utility, powered utility lines hit the ground, igniting a fire, which spread quickly into an uncontrollable conflagration," states the lawsuit.

The largest fire in the history of the state is being investigated by the Texas A&M Forest Service, which has not yet determined a cause.     

According to the lawsuit, Osmose Utilities Services examined poles for Southwestern Public Service and was irresponsible in its inspection and reporting of the "rotten pole that caused the fire."

In a statement to CBS News Texas, Xcel Energy did not address the lawsuit but said they were working "in coordination with first responders and local officials to support the power needs of our communities."

"Our thoughts are with the families and communities impacted by the devastating wildfires across the Texas Panhandle. As members of this community, we will continue to support our neighbors in this recovery," Xcel Energy said in a statement to CBS News Texas. "Through the hard work and dedication of our employees and community partners, we have safely restored power to customers who can receive power. We will continue to work in coordination with first responders and local officials to support the power needs of our communities."

The CEO of Osmose, Mike Adams, stated that the company takes the accusations seriously.

"We are closely following reports of the devastation brought by the Smokehouse Creek Fire, and our thoughts are with the victims of this tragedy," said Adams. "Osmose takes these allegations extremely seriously. We immediately launched an in-depth investigation, and we are committed to fully cooperating with any other local investigations into the cause of the fire. We stand by the quality and accuracy of our utility pole inspections."

There has been no official determination of cause or causes for the fires in the Texas Panhandle and investigations are ongoing.

Two people have died as well as thousands of heads of cattle and more than 500 structures have been destroyed by the wildfires.

The firm representing McQuiddy in the lawsuit has previously represented plaintiffs in lawsuits related to wildfires in Maui and California. McQuiddy is suing for recovery of damages to real property.

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