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Texas Panhandle wildfire hearing wraps up after 3rd day of testimony

Three days of testimony are wrapping up for the legislative committee tasked with investigating last month's Texas Panhandle wildfires.

They're expected to release their findings next month.

The four-member committee, made up of a local rancher, two Texas House members, and a state lawmaker who chairs the grid oversight committee, are looking into the cause and response to the fires.

The investigative panel has been holding marathon hearings over the past three days.

They're grilling electrical providers and regulators about the factors that sparked the largest wildfire in state history.

They're also looking closely at poorly maintained pump jacks and power lines that are a wildfire waiting to happen.

"That's why we're putting this big show on is because we're worried about this issue," rancher Jason Abraham said.

The Texas House committee investigating the deadly panhandle wildfires is wrapping up three days of testimony in Pampa.

Some of the back-and-forth between committee members and witnesses got heated at times.

Todd Hunter is one of three state representatives who make up the Panhandle Wildfires Investigative panel.

Representatives Dustin Burrows and Ken King, who chairs the grid oversight committee, round out the trio. All three are Republicans.

A series of legislative hearings will start next week into the massive, and deadly, wildfires in the Texas Panhandle.

The Texas A&M Forest Service told the committee its investigation into the fire concluded that a fallen decayed utility pole caused the Smokehouse Creek Fire.

Committee members then grilled the Public Utility Commission representative about the decision not to bury power lines.

"The underground lines are hardened. Your outage times are going to be longer because you have to dig," explained Mike Hoke, director of the office of public engagement for the Public Utility Commission.

"I think everyone in the room knows it's money, but if safety is really the goal, then let’s look at are there ways to get there?" Rep. Hunter said.

Xcel Energy previously said it appeared that its equipment was involved in starting the Smokehouse Creek Fire, but denied it was negligent in maintaining power lines.

The series of wildfires burned more than one million acres in the Texas Panhandle in late February and early March.

Dozens of families have been displaced, hundreds of homes and ranches were damaged or destroyed, and thousands of cattle were killed.

"Is it better for you, you think, to be underground than overhead? From a fire hazard standpoint?" Hunter asked.

"Maybe the cost today will be cheaper than the damage in the future," A local electrical provider responded.

The committee will wrap up its three-day public hearing with testimony from ranchers and other homeowners affected by the largest wildfire in state history.

The committee plans to publish its report by May 1.

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