Insurers Blame Co-op for Texas Wildfire

AUSTIN (CN) - Sixteen insurers sued a central Texas electric cooperative, claiming it failed to maintain power lines that caused a massive wildfire in Travis County that destroyed dozens of homes.
     Lead plaintiff Allstate Insurance Co. sued Pedernales Electric Cooperative in Travis County Court.
     Nearly 4 million acres burned in Texas during the 2011 wildfire season, which began in November 2010. More than 2,800 homes burned, 1,932 of them on Labor Day weekend 2011 alone. It was the worst fire season in Texas history.
     Allstate says the September 2011 Pedernales wildfire began beneath PEC power lines in an area stricken by drought.
     "The fire quickly spread from the ignited ground material to adjacent properties, including those of the plaintiffs' insureds, and became known as the Pedernales Wildland Fire," the complaint states.
     It adds: "At all times relevant, PEC was aware of the heightened fire danger in Travis County, Texas, and knew that environmental conditions were favorable for an extensive wildfire event."
     The insurers claim there was excessive, dangerous slack in at least one power lines, caused by a dysfunctional guy wire attached to the pole.
     "The excessive slack allowed energized lines to come into contact with one another under foreseeable conditions and, during the course of this destructive line movement, arcing on the lines created molten metal globules that fell to the ground surface igniting dry combustible grass and other vegetative matter," the complaint states.
     "The fire immediately traveled in a general southerly direction from beneath the aforementioned PEC energized electrical lines, with wind carried embers aiding in the fire's spread into the Spicewood community."
     Each insurer claims to have multiple policyholders whose home, businesses and/or real property burned. They claim PEC failed to maintain proper tension in the lines and failed to maintain spacing between lines, and that PEC did not follow industry standards of line maintenance.
     The electric co-op, founded in 1938, is a private utility owned by its 200,000 members. It serves the Texas Hill Country, according to its website.
     The insurers seek damages for negligence, strict liability and trespass. They are represented by Richard South with Wright Greenhill in Austin.
     Along with Allstate, the plaintiffs are Encompass Insurance Company; State Farm Lloyds; State Farm County Mutual Insurance Company of Texas; Cincinnati Insurance Company; Farmers Insurance Exchange; Farmers Texas County Mutual Insurance Company; Texas Farmers Insurance Company; Foremost Insurance Company; Foremost Lloyds of Texas Insurance Company; Foremost County Mutual Insurance Company; United Services Automobile Association; USAA Casualty Insurance Company; USAA General Indemnity Company; USAA Texas Lloyds Insurance Company and Garrison Property and Casualty Insurance Company.