Texas wildfires: Utility provider says facilities appeared to have role in igniting fire

Utility provider Xcel Energy said Thursday that its facilities appeared to have played a part in igniting a massive wildfire in the Texas Panhandle that grew into the largest in state history.

Texas officials concluded Thursday that power lines ignited the Smokehouse Creek fire. The wildfire has burned an estimated 1,059,570 acres and is 74 percent contained, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The Minnesota-based company said in a statement that it disputes claims that "it acted negligently" in maintaining and operating infrastructure.

"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.

READ MORE: Gov. Abbott honors fire chief killed in Panhandle fire

Xcel said it is cooperating with investigators and carrying out its own review.

A lawsuit against the utility provider was filed last week claiming negligence. In the same statement, the company disputed that it acted negligently in maintaining and operating its infrastructure.

"We encourage people who had property destroyed by or livestock lost in the Smokehouse Creek fire to submit a claim to Xcel Energy through our claims process," the statement says.

The fire is one of a series of fires that ignited in the rural Panhandle last week and prompted evacuation orders in a handful of small communities.

"We are still in the middle of a disaster and there is still work to do," said Deidra Thomas from the Hutchinson County Office of Emergency Management on Wednesday.

Hutchinson County, northeast of Amarillo, is the hardest hit.

Last week, two fire-related deaths were confirmed and this week the small town of Fritch announced the death of its volunteer fire chief.

Zeb Smith collapsed at a house fire, suffering from a reported heart attack.

Hutchinson County Emergency Management has given daily wildfire updates on Facebook with an even more somber tone on Wednesday.

"Just keep your thoughts and prayers with his family, his first repsonder family, a lot of people are hurting there is no way to sugar coat that," said Thomas.

The wildfire destroyed more than 500 structures and killed livestock in multiple locations.

As people in the area continue to deal with the heartbreak and loss of property officials are cautioning residents to avoid moving too quickly with damage recovery.

"Right now it is too soon to actually start offloading debris," said Thomas. "You may think those ashes are cool, but they are not, so if you start dumping things at a transfer station or landfill you are going to catch things on fire."

On Thursday, Governor Abbott requested the U.S. Small Business Administration to join the state in assessing the damage to determine if the state meets the threshold for federal disaster assistance.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.