Lawsuit blames electric co-op for Bastrop County wildfire

Marilyn Tennissen Sep. 26, 2011, 10:33am

A lawsuit was filed Sept. 23 against Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, alleging the power company is responsible for the Bastrop County fire, the largest in Texas history.

The flames in Bastrop County may be extinguished, but a recently filed lawsuit is now igniting a court battle over the largest wildfire in the state's history.

Over the Labor Day weekend, high winds in central Texas blew trees into power lines, sending sparks into the dry grass below. Fueled by drought conditions, the fire eventually killed two people, destroyed 1,500 homes and devoured almost 35,000 acres.

On Sept. 23, a suit was filed in Bastrop County against Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, the non-profit power company that plaintiffs say bears responsibility for the fires.

Bill Rossick, of Putoni, Escover & Rossick PC in Austin, currently represents three Bastrop residents who are accusing Bluebonnet of negligence for failing to maintain trees near the power lines. Rossick told KVUE News in Austin he expects more plaintiffs to join the suit.

"This was not an act of God that was not foreseeable," Rossick said.

However, Bluebonnet claims it is not responsible and says the Texas Forest Service has concluded the trees were outside of the company's easement.

"This lawsuit is a misguided attempt to blame Bluebonnet for a terrible incident that we could not control," said Bluebonnet CEO Mark Rose in a statement released Sept. 26. "The Labor Day weekend fires in Bastrop County were the result of high winds causing tall trees to fall into our power lines through one of the most heavily forested areas of Texas in the midst of an historic drought

"These trees were on private property, well outside Bluebonnet's rights-of-way. Given these facts and the conditions at the time these fires started – extreme drought, high winds, hot temperatures, low humidity and abundant fuel – no reasonable person could blame Bluebonnet, or any other utility."

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