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Texas Panhandle wildfire investigation hearing continues

The Texas House committee formed to investigate the Panhandle fires spent the day asking more questions during a hearing held in Pampa.

Hundreds of homes were destroyed by the flames as well as livestock and crops. More than a million acres of the Texas Panhandle are scorched by wildfires – 1.1 million of those acres burned by the Smokehouse Creek Fire alone.

Last month, a Texas A&M Forest Service investigator said a power pole that was decayed at the base fell, sparking the Smokehouse Creek Fire, but today members of the Investigative Committee on the Panhandle Fires asked if something more deliberate happened.

“Where was it chopped?” asked Corpus Christi State Representative Todd Hunter. “It appears it started at the base. It wouldn’t appear to me – it’s as if they removed the dirt and then they do this chopping and once they’re completed they put some kind of wrap around the base.”

This line of questioning centered around a contractor for Xcel Energy called Osmose, which inspects power poles.

“Was there anything else marked on that pole with any tags or anything like that?” Hunter asked “Yes, it was. It was marked with an inspection tag.”

Committee members have not seen a report from Osmose regarding the downed power pole, although Representative Hunter suspects there is one. Osmose was also not at the meeting, although they did send a letter.

“They’ve said in their letter that they can’t attend and they welcome the opportunity to discuss and we’ve got additional questions. So, let’s take them up on the officer and ask if they’ve got any reports,” he said. “well, we will certainly do that Mr. Hunter.”

I reached out to Osmose to find out why they weren’t at the meeting. The company issued the following statement:

Osmose is deeply concerned about the profound impact of the Panhandle Wildfires and is committed to assisting with all investigations. Although we were unable to attend the Committee meeting on short notice, we sent the attached letter to the Investigative Committee and offered to meet with its staff to discuss fire mitigation and recommended best practices in the State of Texas.

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