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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 at 9:27 PM
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Massive wildfires ignited by power lines

CAPITAL HIGHLIGHTS
Massive wildfires ignited by power lines

Two wildfires that burned more than 1 million acres in the Panhandle were caused by downed power lines, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Juan Rodriguez, with the service, told the Texas Standard that its law enforcement investigators had concluded their probe into the source of the Smokehouse Creek and Windy Deuce fires.

“In this case, we saw winds that were over 60 and 70 miles an hour. And so, when the winds are doing that, driving down the roadways, you can just see power lines just bouncing up and down,” Rodriguez said. “It’s bound to cause one of these power lines to fail or something like that. So, you know, one of them or some of them may have fallen or just got out just due to the sheer wind.”

Xcel Energy last Thursday issued a statement acknowledging that its facilities “appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire.”

The company is urging people who lost property or livestock during the fires to submit a claim to the company.

As of Sunday, March 10, the Smokehouse Creek fire was 87% contained, while the Windy Deuce fire was 92% contained.

Some incumbents lose in primary 

At least nine Texas House incumbents targeted by Gov. Greg Abbott and others lost bids for reelection in the March primary, while eight more are headed to runoffs, The Dallas Morning News reported.

In addition, three sitting judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals lost their races after Attorney General Ken Paxton and former President Donald Trump endorsed their opponents.

Abbott spent more than $6 million to target incumbents who blocked his school choice proposal last year.

“He’s made it clear that if you cross him, you’re going to have to fight for your reelection,” Austin-based lobbyist and political consultant Bill Miller said. “For some people, that’s like, ‘Bring it on.’ For others, it means, ‘I quit.’” House Speaker Dade Phelan faces a runoff without support from Abbott, who thus far has remained neutral in that race. Paxton and Trump backed his opponent, David Covey, after the House voted to impeach Paxton on corruption charges. The Senate ultimately acquitted Paxton.

Phelan trailed Covey in the March primary and called the upcoming runoff a battle for the “soul” of the Southeast Texas district.

“In the next couple of months, the deceit and vitriol we’ve witnessed from my opponent and his dark money allies is poised to escalate to even greater heights,” he said in a statement.

The Texas runoff election for races where no candidate exceeded 50% is May 28. Early voting begins May 20 and ends May 24.

Charter school network placed under conservatorship

The state’s largest charter school network has been placed under conservatorship by the Texas Education Agency following a three-year investigation into its spending practices, the Texas Tribune reported. The arrangement is part of a settlement agreement between TEA and IDEA Public Schools, which has 143 campuses.

During the investigation, TEA learned IDEA officials used taxpayer dollars to purchase luxury driver services and spent $15 million to lease a private jet.

IDEA’s schools serve about 80,000 students in grades K-12. While independently run, they are funded with state money, totaling about $821 million in the current school year.

Under the arrangement, conservators have the authority to oversee and direct all district actions, though they will not fully take over governing the district.

IDEA said in a statement that it’s “pleased to have reached a settlement agreement … to resolve compliance issues our organization self-reported to regulators after an internal investigation in 2021.”


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