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Power Lines May Have Ignited the Largest Wildfire in Texas History, Forest Service Says

The historic blaze — which has killed at least two people — was 87% contained as of Friday morning, according to fire officials

<p>Greenville Firefighter Association/ Handout /Anadolu via Getty </p> A fast-moving wildfire burning through the Texas Panhandle region in Texas, United States on February 29, 2024. The US state of Texas issued a disaster declaration as massive wildfires continued to burn out of control, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes.

Greenville Firefighter Association/ Handout /Anadolu via Getty

A fast-moving wildfire burning through the Texas Panhandle region in Texas, United States on February 29, 2024. The US state of Texas issued a disaster declaration as massive wildfires continued to burn out of control, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes.
  • The Texas A&M Forest Service said power lines are believed to have ignited the Smokehouse Creek wildfire in Texas on Feb. 26

  • Xcel Energy said Thursday that it “has been cooperating with the investigations into the wildfires and has been conducting its own review"

  • The Smokehouse Creek fire was 87% contained as of Friday morning, fire officials said

Power lines are believed to have sparked the massive Smokehouse Creek wildfire in the Texas Panhandle, the largest blaze in state history, following an investigation by the Texas A&M Forest Service.

According to Juan Rodriguez, a public information officer with the service, investigators have completed their investigation into the cause of the Smokehouse Creek fire and the Windy Deuce fire, Texas Standard reported.

“In this case, we saw winds that were over 60 and 70 miles an hour. And so when the winds are doing that, driving down the roadways, you can just see power lines just bouncing up and down,” Rodriguez said. “It’s bound to cause one of these power lines to fail or something like that. So, you know, one of them or some of them may have fallen or just got out just due to the sheer wind.”

In a statement shared Thursday, Xcel Energy acknowledged “that its facilities appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire.” PEOPLE has reached out to the energy company and Rodriguez for comments.

Related: Texas Fire Chief Dies Battling House Fire After Days of Fighting Panhandle Wildfires: 'It Did Have a Role'

According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, the fire has burned more than one million acres of land since it began on Feb. 26.

As of Friday morning, the blaze was 87% contained, according to fire officials. At least two people have died from the fire, according to CNN and the Associated Press.

Xcel Energy said it “has been cooperating with the investigations into the wildfires and has been conducting its own review.” 

“The people in this region are our friends, neighbors and relatives,” said Bob Frenzel, Chairman, President and CEO of Xcel Energy. “We are deeply saddened by the losses incurred in this community, and we are committed to supporting its renewal and recovery.”

Forty-seven homes in Hemphill County and upwards of 17 homes in Roberts County were lost in the Smokehouse Creek fire, Xcel Energy said. A number of homes in Hutchinson County were also lost in the Smokehouse Creek fire, as well as the Windy Deuce fire, which is burning simultaneously.

<p>Jordan Vonderhaar/Bloomberg via Getty</p> A utility crew repairs damaged power lines following the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Fritch, Texas, US, on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Texas emergency crews are battling the worst wildfire in state history amid forecasts for several more days of dry, windy weather that will make their task more difficult.

Jordan Vonderhaar/Bloomberg via Getty

A utility crew repairs damaged power lines following the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Fritch, Texas, US, on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Texas emergency crews are battling the worst wildfire in state history amid forecasts for several more days of dry, windy weather that will make their task more difficult.

Xcel Energy “does not believe that its facilities caused the ignition of the Windy Deuce fire.”

A Stinnett homeowner has filed a lawsuit against Xcel Energy, in which she claimed a fallen power pole ignited the blaze, CNN and the AP reported.

The woman accused the companies of failing to “properly inspect, maintain, and replace” the pole, which she claimed “snapped off at its base” the day the fire began.

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Mikal Watts, the woman’s attorney, told CNN that “fire patterns” were used to track the pole back to Xcel Energy and a subcontractor. During an inspection on Wednesday, the pole was found to be “heavily degraded” and “should have been removed from service long ago,” Watts said, per the AP.

The attorney did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Related: 83-Year-Old Grandmother Dies as Largest Wildfire in Texas History Scorches More Than 1M Acres

Xcel Energy — which “has operated in the Texas Panhandle for more than 100 years,” according to Frenzel — pushed back against “claims that it acted negligently in maintaining and operating its infrastructure.”

In the meantime, Xcel Energy is encouraging those who lost property or livestock in the Smokehouse Creek wildfire to submit a claim, which the company said will be reviewed and responded to “in an expeditious manner.”

The company also promised to continue working with regulators and policymakers “to evaluate the evolving nature of the wildfire risk and advance effective wildfire mitigation strategies” to help protect the public.

“As longstanding members of the west Texas community, we will continue to support our neighbors in this recovery,” Xcel Energy said.

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