Texas Lawmakers Fault Xcel Power Pole in State’s Largest Fire

(Bloomberg) -- The worst wildfire in Texas history was sparked by a power pole and lines owned by Xcel Energy Inc. that hadn’t been effectively maintained or replaced, according to a state legislative committee report.

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The pole identified as the cause of the fire had been suffering from decay, and an Xcel contractor designated it in need of replacement, the report said, citing testimony from an Xcel executive. The report, issued Wednesday, also found that Texas does little to regulate the inspection, maintenance and replacement of utility poles.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire, which charred more than 1 million acres, was the biggest of several wildfires that erupted in February across the Texas Panhandle, destroying ranches and killing thousands of livestock and two people. Total economic loses from the blazes may exceed $1 billion, according to the report from an investigative committee of the Texas House of Representatives.

Xcel has said that its equipment was likely involved in the Smokehouse Creek fire and took a $215 million first-quarter charge to cover potential liabilities. “We do dispute any claims that we acted negligently in maintaining and operating our infrastructure,” the company said Wednesday in response to the report.

The legislative report also found fault with the response to the fires, including a lack of air support and ineffective communication among agencies. It made a number of recommendations, such as additional state oversight of utility pole inspection and replacement programs.

“Prompt and aggressive action is required to better predict, prevent, and respond to future wildfires,” the report said.

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