Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Wildfires

Firefighter walks in smoke
Firefighter walks in smoke from Texas Panhandle wildfires | Image by Texas A&M Forest Service/Facebook

Joyce Blankenship was inside her Stinnett, Texas, home on February 27 when a purportedly rotten utility pole cracked and 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 fires spread suddenly and rapidly, leaving Blankenship no time to escape. The flames eventually engulfed her home, once decorated with memories of her husband, children, and grandchildren, and the 83-year-old woman died.

Her son, Paul Blankenship, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the power companies that have admitted to having a role in starting the blaze. The defendants include Xcel Energy Services, Southwestern Public Service Company, and Osmose Utilities Services.

“This lawsuit is necessary as a result of a preventable, massive wildfire that killed Joyce ‘Joy’ Blankenship, a mother and grandmother who was loved by all that had the fortune of knowing her,” reads the lawsuit.

The suit alleges that the energy companies responsible for inspecting, maintaining, and replacing the utility poles and power lines failed to comply with safety regulations and properly maintain the equipment.

Blankenship’s lawsuit is one of many that have begun to pile up following the historic wildfires.

A woman named Melanie McQuiddy filed a lawsuit against the same utility companies, claiming that the falling utility pole caused the fire that burned her house down.

Xcel Energy has admitted its involvement in the incident that led to the burning of over 1 million acres.

“Based on currently available information, Xcel Energy acknowledges that its facilities appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire,” the company said in a statement, according to The Texas Tribune.

Osmose CEO Mike Adams also spoke out, stating, “Osmose takes these allegations extremely seriously. We immediately launched an in-depth investigation, and we are committed to fully cooperating with any other local investigations into the cause of the fire. We stand by the quality and accuracy of our utility pole inspections,” reported CBS News Texas.

Blankenship was not the only death to result from the Panhandle wildfires. According to KFDA, Cindy Owen was a truck driver traveling through Pampa for work when she became stuck on the road, surrounded by fire. She left her vehicle in an attempt to find safety and was burned. She died as a result of her injuries.

Fritch Volunteer Fire Chief Zeb Smith was also killed in the fires after nine nonstop days of fighting the flames, per KFDA. Smith was the first to arrive at a call for a house fire and went inside to see if anyone needed help. He never came out, later dying at an area hospital.

In addition to human lives lost, thousands of cattle have also succumbed to the fires, which are now 100% contained, as reported by The Dallas Express.

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