Cattle rancher sues utilities firms for alleged role in devastating Texas wildfires

By Staff
3 Min Read

Dive Brief:

  • A Texas cattle rancher is suing three utilities companies for their alleged role in starting one of the state’s largest wildfires in history, which devastated pastures and livestock operations across the Panhandle region earlier this year.

  • Donnie Parker, who owns a ranch in Skellytown, filed a class action suit in a federal Texas court on Thursday, asserting Xcel Energy, Southwestern Public Service Company and Osmose Utilities Services were negligent in failing to maintain and repair a damaged electrical line pole that crashed to the ground and sparked the Smokehouse Creek Fire.

  • Xcel had conducted its own review of the situation and acknowledged last month that “its facilities appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire.” Parker’s lawsuit aims to “recover the billions of dollars in losses” for ranchers.

Dive Insight:

The Smokehouse Creek Fire burned more than 1 million acres and resulted in the deaths of two people and thousands of cattle, according to the 17-page lawsuit. The lawsuit estimates the economic toll to be in the billions of dollars, though economists have yet to reach a consensus on the impact.

On behalf of those affected by the fire that scorched farmland for three weeks, Donnie Parker, owner of Spring Creek Ranch, is seeking to recover the money for class members in the lawsuit. 

Parker reported significant damages to his 10,000-acre cattle operation in Skellytown, Texas. Approximately 90% of available pasture was lost from the fire, as well as buildings, equipment, fencing and livestock.

“Where grasslands once were, sand dunes now are pushed by the wind,” the lawsuit says. 

Xcel did not replace the damaged pole despite planning to do so following an inspection on Feb. 9, according to a Texas hearing earlier this month

“Obviously, I wish we could turn back the clock and replace the pole that day,” Adrian Rodriguez, president of Xcel’s Texas and New Mexico division, said in testimony.

Despite acknowledgement of its influence, Xcel has disputed claims that it acted negligently in maintaining and operating its infrastructure, and is offering reimbursements to those affected by the fire.

“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 company said in a statement March 7.

According to the lawsuit, wholly-owned subsidiary Southwestern conducted business as Xcel in Texas. Service provider Osmose inspected the pole and marked it as a top priority for replacement prior to the fire.

The suit comes as Xcel faces more than 300 lawsuits for its alleged role in starting a destructive 2021 fire in Boulder, Colorado.

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