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Texas legislative committee to investigate Panhandle wildfires

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Freda Ross

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(Texas News Service) Several members of the Texas Legislature have been appointed to a committee to investigate wildfires that ravaged the Texas Panhandle and parts of Oklahoma.

At least three state lawmakers and two local residents will be part of the committee looking into how well federal, state and local agencies coordinated their efforts and how disaster preparedness resources are allocated.

Lisa Johnson, Hemphill County judge, said as the recovery efforts continue, the area is receiving donations of hay, feed and fencing materials to help ranchers, and monetary donations to assist those who were displaced. 

PROMO State - Texas Road Sign - iStock - gguy44

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"We're going to keep trying to provide services and things that they need," Johnson explained. "Not just in the next few weeks, but the next few months or years as needed."

She pointed out donations can be made through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Hemphill County. 

The fire scorched 2,000 square miles of land, killed at least 7,000 cattle and destroyed about 500 barns and homes. The Small Business Administration has approved Governor Greg Abbott's disaster declaration, to make loans available in the 14 affected counties.

One focus of the legislative committee will be the state's wildfire preparedness, since it is not the first time this kind of tragedy has hit the Panhandle. Johnson noted extension agents were able to quickly mobilize assistance because of programs put into place following previous wildfires. 

"That was partly based on the fires that we had previously, in 2006, and again in 2017 and 2022," Johnson outlined.

The Texas A&M Forest Service has determined power lines owned by Xcel Energy sparked the Smokehouse Creek fire. The company admitted its power lines were involved but disputed claims it was negligent in maintaining its infrastructure. Lawsuits have already been filed against the company, which now has about 120 miles of power lines to replace.