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Utility Firm Skips Texas Panhandle Wildfire Hearings

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AMPA — An organization employed to examine utility poles within the Panhandle declined to testify earlier than Texas lawmakers Wednesday, as a part of the state’s inquiry into the Smokehouse Creek hearth — the biggest wildfire in state historical past that burned greater than 1 million acres and killed two.

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Viewers members scoffed when the committee introduced Osmose Utilities Companies, a Georgia-based firm contracted by Xcel Vitality to carry out security inspections, skipped its likelihood to deal with lawmakers in the course of the three days of public hearings in Pampa.

State Rep. Ken King, a Canadian Republican, learn a press release from the corporate at the beginning of the second day of hearings.

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“Though Osmose can’t attend the Committee assembly this week, we welcome the chance to debate hearth mitigation-related service choices and advisable finest practices within the State of Texas along with your workers ought to the Committee have extra questions,” the corporate’s assertion stated.

King, the committee’s chair, referred to as Osmose’s choice to not seem puzzling.

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“Our native utilities had been more than pleased to come back and take part on this investigation, however this non-public company has evidently denied our request regardless of the state of affairs within the Panhandle,” he stated.

[Texas emergency director calls for firefighting air force after historic Panhandle fires]

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The committee is assembly in Pampa, a city of about 16,000 in Grey County, this week as a part of its investigation into the sequence of wildfires, together with the Smokehouse Creek hearth, that scorched the Panhandle in late February and early March. Dozens of households have been displaced, tons of of houses and ranches had been broken or destroyed, and 1000’s of cattle had been killed.

The committee has 5 members, together with state Reps. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi and King. All three are Republicans. Landowners Jason Abraham and James Henderson are public members of the committee. The committee plans to publish its report by Might 1.

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Kevin Pierce, a regulation enforcement officer for the Texas A&M Forest Service, advised the committee its investigation into the fireplace concluded {that a} fallen decayed utility pole precipitated the Smokehouse Creek hearth.

Xcel Vitality beforehand acknowledged its “amenities seem to have been concerned in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek hearth.”

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Throughout the investigation, Pierce famous he discovered chop marks on the base of the decayed utility pole and rapidly observed a number of others had the identical markings.

“It was the primary time in my 19 years of doing this seeing chop marks on poles,” he stated.

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Pierce stated when he requested Xcel Vitality about this, their representatives tried to name Osmose as a result of it appeared prefer it is likely to be some sort of inspection methodology. Osmose couldn’t be reached. Pierce stated Osmose nonetheless has not responded to his questions.

“One of the best individuals to reply these questions are Osmose,” Pierce stated.

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Burrows identified that Mike Adams, CEO of Osmose, had advised native and nationwide media that their firm was dedicated to completely cooperating with any native investigations into the reason for the fireplace.

“I don’t know if a PR workforce or a disaster administration workforce advised them to place out a press release, however they’ve refused to speak to us,” he advised the viewers.

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Osmose in a press release to The Texas Tribune reaffirmed its dedication to serving to the state’s investigation.

“Osmose is deeply involved concerning the profound influence of the Panhandle Wildfires and is dedicated to aiding with all investigations,” the assertion stated. “Though we had been unable to attend the Committee assembly on brief discover, we despatched the hooked up letter to the Investigative Committee and supplied to satisfy with its workers to debate hearth mitigation and advisable finest practices within the State of Texas.”

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Each Xcel and Osmose are named in lawsuits stemming from the Panhandle fires.

This text initially appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/04/03/texas-wildfires-hearing-osmose/.

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The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and interesting Texans on state politics and coverage. Be taught extra at texastribune.org.

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