Bastrop wildfire lawsuit opens liability concern for East Texas utilities

NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Three victims of the massive Bastrop county wildfire are suing the electric utility whose fallen power lines sparked the blaze. The lawsuit opens up a liability concern for all utilities.

ABC Professional Tree Service came all the way from Victoria to clear tree limbs from power lines in Nacogdoches.

The Oncor Contractor has similar jobs statewide.

Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative hired on two crews this week and is even considering non-conventional contractors.

"Loggers that are capable of cutting those trees," says Larry Warren, Deep East TExas Electric Cooperative CEO.

Big concerns are fire danger and maintaining continuity of service. If safeguards are ignored, Warren is says a coop could be guilty of negligence.

"Sure do. I sure do. I think any time you see a need on your system to make repairs or replacements that you're obligated to do that," says Warren.

Warren empathizes with his colleague Bluebonnet General Manager Mark Rose.

The coop that serves Bastrop is being accused of negligence and failing to trim the trees away from power lines. Rose says the lawsuit is a misguided attempt to blame the utility for a terrible incident out of its control.

"You can cut them today and make that same round two weeks from now and find more dead trees," says Warren.

Deep East Texas maintains over 6,800 miles of line, much of it through dense forests. Two million dollars is budgeted each year for tree maintenance. An obligation that's likely not to disappear as wildfires remain a major concern.

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