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Faulty power line that wasn’t properly maintained to blame for devastating Texas wildfire, lawsuit claims

The Smokehouse Creek fire, which has become the largest blaze in Texas history, was caused by a faulty power line that wasn’t properly maintained, alleges a lawsuit.

Melanie Lee McQuiddy has sued Xcel Energy Services and contractor, Southwestern Public Service Company, for their involvement in what she believes to be an electrical fire that incinerated over a million acres.

Hundreds of structures have been destroyed as the blazes continue. At least two civilians have died since the start of the fires last month in the Texas Panhandle region. On Tuesday, city officials in Fritch said their fire chief had a fatal heart attack while tending to a morning structure fire.

Hundreds of cattle have also been killed as a result of the blaze and residents in the area have had to evacuate their homes. At least 47 families in Hemphill County have been displaced.

Ms McQuiddy is seeking damages for the Smokehouse Creek fire, which is currently nearly the size of Connecticut.

She alleges that the flames started after a wooden pole the defendants failed to inspect, maintain and replace, splintered and snapped off at its base. The state’s recent high winds caused the fire to further spread and destroyed her home, she claims.

“As a result of the utility, powered utility lines hit the ground, igniting a fire, which spread quickly into an uncontrollable conflagration which incinerated the nearby town of Canadian, Texas, and [has] now consumed more than 1.1m acres,” the lawsuit states.

Vernon Jones helps his wife Melissa clean debris from her father's property after a garage and carport were destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek fire on March 03, 2024 near Stinnett, Texas. (Getty Images)
Vernon Jones helps his wife Melissa clean debris from her father's property after a garage and carport were destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek fire on March 03, 2024 near Stinnett, Texas. (Getty Images)

Ms McQuiddy claims that some of her property was destroyed in the fire. She’s seeking damages to cover the cost of the following: replacement value of personal property, the cost to repair the property and the value of vegetation destroyed, in addition to other requests.

Attorneys for Ms McQuiddy are also seeking a jury trial against the company.

The Independent has reached out to Xcel Energy Services for comment. Contact information for Southwestern Public Service Company could not be immediately located.

Kevin Cross, a spokesperson for Xcel, told USA TODAY that the fires are being investigated and the cause has not been established.

“Our thoughts are with the families and communities impacted by the devastating wildfires across the Texas Panhandle,” Mr Cross said. “As members of this community, we will continue to support our neighbors in this recovery.”

Ranchers move cattle killed by the Smokehouse Creek Fire out of burned ranch land, Friday, March 1, 2024, in Skellytown, Texas. (AP)
Ranchers move cattle killed by the Smokehouse Creek Fire out of burned ranch land, Friday, March 1, 2024, in Skellytown, Texas. (AP)

Speaking to CNN, Ms McQuiddy’s daughter, Brooke McQuiddy said, “My mother’s home, unfortunately, has burned to the ground and there’s absolutely nothing left. She’s lost everything.”

Though officials said at an afternoon news conference that the fires are seeing an uptick in containment levels, high-risk fire weather is still expected to move through the area during the week.

Fire officials have warned residents to maintain vigilance to ensure that no new fires begin.

It’s imperative that people in the area “do everything we can not to start any more fires in this area of the country right now,” Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said at a news conference.