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Texas' largest-ever wildfire that killed at least 2 apparently ignited by power company facilities, company says

Power company acknowledges its facilities may have sparked the Smokehouse Creek fire
Power company acknowledges its facilities may have sparked the Smokehouse Creek fire 00:46

Xcel Energy, a Minneapolis-based company that powers homes across the eight states in the West and Midwest, said Thursday that its facilities played a role in the massive wildfires in the Texas Panhandle that have left at least two people dead, burned more than a million acres of land and killed thousands of animals.

"Xcel Energy has been cooperating with the investigations into the wildfires and has been conducting its own review," the company said in a statement on Thursday. "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 announcement comes within days of a Texas woman filing a lawsuit against the Southwestern Public Service Company, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, and Osmose Utilities Services, a Georgia-based contractor that inspects wooden utility poles. The woman said in the lawsuit that the fire ignited on Feb. 26 when one of their poles broke, "igniting a fire, which spread quickly into an uncontrollable conflagration." 

The Smokehouse Creek Fire ignited in Hutchinson County, Texas, at the beginning of last week. Within days, it grew to be a historic size. As of Thursday, the fire was 1,059,570 acres, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, and was 44% contained. This blaze, one of several hitting the region, is the largest-ever in the state of Texas and is one of the largest-ever recorded in the U.S. 

The fires have been so extensive that all it took was a week for a handful of fires to burn nearly as much land as thousands of fires did over the course of four years in the state, from 2017 to 2021. 

Xcel said, however, that it doesn't believe its facilities ignited the nearby Windy Deuce Fire that started in Moore County. That fire has since grown to an estimated 142,206 acres, and is 81% contained as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Forest Service. 

The company said that it disputes claims the company "acted negligently in maintaining and operating its infrastructure." It said that those whose property was destroyed or whose livestock was killed can submit a claim. 

"Xcel Energy, through our Southwestern Public Service Company (SPS) subsidiary, has operated in the Texas Panhandle for more than 100 years," Xcel Energy Chairman, President and CEO Bob Frenzel said in a statement. "The people in this region are our friends, neighbors and relatives. We are deeply saddened by the losses incurred in this community, and we are committed to supporting its renewal and recovery."

One family in the town of Fritch in Hutchinson County, and told CBS News of the moment they realized their home had become "nothing but ash" after the Smokehouse Creek Fire. Photos from the site of their former home show nothing but debris and the charred remains of what was once a swing set. 

"I see my neighbor's house and it's perfectly fine," Tyler McCain, a father of three young girls, told CBS News. "...Our house was gone." 

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