Utility provider Xcel Energy has said that its facilities appear to have played a role in igniting a massive wildfire in the Texas Panhandle that grew to the largest blaze in state history.

Texas officials have said they are still investigating the cause of the fire that has burned nearly 1,700 square miles and destroyed hundreds of structures.

The Minnesota-based company said in a statement that it disputed claims “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.

Texas Wildfires
Utility workers from Xcel Energy work on power lines near a home destroyed by the Smokehouse Creek Fire (Julio Cortez/AP)

The Texas A&M Forest Service said that its investigators have also concluded that the Smokehouse Creek fire was ignited by power lines, as was the nearby Windy Deuce fire.

Xcel Energy said it did not believe its facilities were responsible for the Windy Deuce fire.

Electric utilities have taken responsibility for wildfires around the US, including fallen power lines that started a blaze in Maui last year. Transmission lines also sparked a massive California wildfire in 2019.

The Smokehouse Creek fire was among a cluster of fires that ignited in the rural Panhandle last week and prompted evacuation orders in a handful of small communities. That wildfire, which also reached neighbouring Oklahoma, was about 44% contained as of Wednesday.

Officials said that as many as 500 structures may have been destroyed in the fires.

A lawsuit filed on Friday in Hemphill County alleged that a downed power line near the town of Stinnett on February 26 sparked the blaze.

Texas Wildfires
Xcel Energy workers begin replacing hundreds of power poles in Fritch, Texas (Michael Schumacher/Amarillo Globe-News via AP)

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Stinnett homeowner Melanie McQuiddy against Xcel Energy Services and two other utilities, alleged the blaze started “when a wooden pole defendants failed to properly inspect, maintain and replace, splintered and snapped off at its base”.

Dale Smith, who operates a large cattle ranch east of Stinnett, said he lost an estimated 30 to 50 cows out of the 3,000 that graze on his property.

“We’re still trying to tally up the cattle losses,” Mr Smith said. “It burned probably 70-80% of the ranch.”

He said much of the grazing land will grow back quickly with rain and moisture but he said they also lost several 100-year-old Cottonwood trees that dotted the ranch. Firefighters were able to save three camps on the ranch that included barns and other structures.

Mr Smith said he believes a faulty power line sparked the blaze which quickly spread because of high winds.

“These fires are becoming a regular occurrence. Lives are being lost. Livestock are being lost. Livelihoods are being lost. It’s a sad story that repeats itself again and again, because public utility companies and oil companies responsible for these power lines aren’t keeping them maintained,” he said.