Son of Woman Who Died in TX Panhandle Wildfire Sues Utility Companies As Lawsuits Pile

Lana Ferguson – The Dallas Morning News

The son of a woman who died inside her home during the historic Texas Panhandle wildfires last month filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against the utility companies who say their facilities may have played a role in igniting the blaze.

Paul Blankenship, acting as the representative for 83-year-old Joyce Blankenship, filed the suit in the 84th Judicial District Court in Hutchinson County.

Defendants include Xcel Energy Services, Southwestern Public Service Company and Osmose Utilities Services.

The lawsuit requests a jury trial to determine the final amount of compensation, but says it should be more than $1 million.

Officials have linked two deaths, including Blankenship’s, to the cluster of wildfires that burned through more than 1 million acres of land in the Panhandle over a roughly 3-week period. They also destroyed hundreds of homes and killed thousands of cattle.

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“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,” the filing reads.

The lawsuit says Blankenship’s death is tied to the 687 Reamer fire that was lit Feb. 27, a few miles from Stinnett, when a “decayed, wooden power line pole splintered and snapped,” causing it to hit the ground and ignite the fire.

Blankenship was at her home south of Stinnett the same day when the fires spread and she was unable to escape so she burned alive, according to the lawsuit.

Blankenship’s son alleges in the lawsuit that the energy companies acted negligently because although they owned and maintained the poles and powerlines and hired Osmose to inspect and provide reports on them, they disregarded their duties to comply with safety regulations, properly maintain the equipment, eliminate any dangerous conditions and more.

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Paul Blankenship has suffered mental anguish, pecuniary losses, exemplary damages and more because of the defendants’ actions, the lawsuit says.

He is being represented by Houston-based Webster Vicknair and MacLeod and Amarillo-based The Warner Law Firm.

Minnesota-based utility provider Xcel Energy said in a statement earlier this month that its facilities appeared to have been involved in igniting the Smokehouse Creek fire — which grew to be the largest fire in state history — and that it was cooperating with investigations. It only confirmed its facilities were connected to the one fire.

Officials with the Texas A&M Forest Service have also said state investigators concluded the Smokehouse Creek and Windy Deuce fires were ignited by power lines.

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Roughly a dozen lawsuits have been filed in connection with the Panhandle wildfires, including separate lawsuits filed by the father and wife of 44-year-old Cindy Owen, the second person killed as a result of the fires.

The first of the lawsuits was filed March 1 by a Hemphill County resident also alleging the the utility providers acted negligently.

Over the last few weeks, a flurry of lawsuits has followed, including those filed by ranchers and landowners in counties like Roberts, Hemphill and Carson.

©2024 The Dallas Morning News. Visit dallasnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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Lana Ferguson – The Dallas Morning News The son of a woman who died inside her home during the historic Texas Panhandle wildfires last month filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against the utility companies who say their facilities may have played a role in igniting the blaze. Paul Blankenship, acting as the representative for […]

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