Texas electric utility says its equipment was ‘involved’ in starting massive Smokehouse Creek Fire

A helicopter hovers above a burning, smoky landscape.
Firefighters battle flames from the Smokehouse Creek fire on March 03, 2024 near Sanford, Texas.  | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Electric utility Xcel Energy admits that its equipment likely helped ignite the devastating Smokehouse Creek Fire that’s blazed across Texas since last week.

“Xcel Energy has been cooperating with the investigations into the wildfires and has been conducting its own review. Based on currently available information, Xcel Energy acknowledges that its facilities appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire,” the company said in a statement today.

The blaze has grown into the largest in state history, consuming more than a million acres, killing at least two people, and destroying hundreds of structures. It was still only 44 percent contained as of Thursday morning.

Excel already faces lawsuits from people affected by the massive fire, including one resident who lost her home and one millionaire rancher.

The plaintiffs claim that a power line pole owned by Xcel subsidiary Southwestern Public Service Company fell and started a fire. Xcel doesn’t specifically mention the pole in its statement today.

“Xcel Energy disputes claims that it acted negligently in maintaining and operating its infrastructure; however, we encourage people who had property destroyed by or livestock lost in the Smokehouse Creek Fire to submit a claim to Xcel Energy through our claims process,” the statement says.

If Xcel is ultimately found responsible for the Smokehouse Creek Fire, it wouldn’t be the first utility to be held accountable for sparking an inferno after an equipment failure. Maui County sued Hawaiian Electric, saying its downed power lines caused the catastrophic fire that killed more than 100 people and destroyed much of Lahaina last year.

California utility company PG&E was found responsible for sparking the 2018 Camp Fire and 2021 Dixie Fire, two of the largest blazes in the state’s history. In Colorado, Xcel also faces hundreds of lawsuits blaming its equipment for the 2021 Marshall Fire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes.