TX House To Investigate Panhandle Wildfires

Charred ground left by the Smokehouse Creek fire.
Charred ground left by the Smokehouse Creek fire. | Image by Justin Rex/The Texas Tribune

A Texas House committee tasked with investigating the recent historic Panhandle wildfires will be holding a three-day public meeting this week.

The Panhandle Wildfires Investigative Committee, created by House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), will be chaired by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) and will include Reps. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) and Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), as well as two members of the public, Jason Abraham and Ashley Cash.

The hearings will be held from Tuesday to Thursday at the MK Brown Civic Center in Pampa, starting at 8 a.m. each day.

Committee members plan to discuss their forthcoming duties and investigation, which will look into the following:

factors contributing to the wildfires;

allocation of resources to and effectiveness of wildfire disaster preparedness and response; and

coordination between local, state, and federal government entities with regard to wildfire prevention, disaster preparedness, and response.

Additionally, the committee will address electronically submitted public comments concerning the wildfires, including testimonies and suggestions.

First responders, landowners, and other stakeholders plan to attend the meeting throughout the week.

Xcel Energy will also be in attendance to discuss ways to move forward following revelations about its involvement in starting at least one of the wildfires. The electric company acknowledged its role in the Smokehouse Creek Fire earlier this month, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

The admission came amid multiple lawsuits against the company, some of which alleged a rotten utility pole the firm failed to properly inspect, maintain, and replace snapped off at its base, starting the 687 Reamer Fire that subsequently merged with the Smokehouse Creek Fire to become the largest wildfire in Texas history.

The committee is to submit its findings by May 1, which will include recommended legislative solutions and other actions to prevent future wildfires and improve wildfire disaster preparedness, response, and mitigation, according to a Texas House press release.

Three deaths were reported as a result of the fires. In addition to the human lives lost, thousands of cattle also died due to the fires.

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