Settlement reached in suits following 2011 Bastrop fires

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — Many of the lawsuits filed against Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative following the 2011 Bastrop Complex fires have been settled, company officials said.

“Bluebonnet’s insurance carrier has settled the lawsuits with nearly all of the plaintiffs in the Bastrop County complex wildfire,” Mark Rose, Bluebonnet’s general manager, said in a statement. “This settlement is a positive outcome for Bluebonnet and will have no negative financial impact on co-op members,” Rose added.

Fifty-eight wildfire victims sued Bluebonnet, accusing the company of gross negligence. A Texas Forest Service investigation determined the fire was likely caused by trees falling on overhead power lines. This caused sparks to ignite in dry grass and debris below, according to the report.

A 2011 statement from fire victims’ attorneys claimed that Bluebonnet caused an “almost identical” fire in 2009 after failing to maintain trees surrounding their power lines. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit cite similar practices as the cause of the Labor Day fires two years later.

“Bluebonnet again acted unreasonably in 2011 when its failure to cull dead trees led to the Labor Day Weekend Fire in Bastrop which destroyed over 1,600 homes, 34,000 acres and caused two deaths,” attorney William Rossick said. “We believe that not holding Bluebonnet accountable and allowing their pattern of recklessly disregarding known fire risks would be completely unreasonable.”

“Besides compensating the Bastrop area residents for their losses, we hope that this lawsuit will motivate Bluebonnet and all electrical utility companies to be more proactive in preventing additional wildfires,” Rossick added.

In 2011, Bluebonnet officials denounced claims of neglect against the company.

“This lawsuit is a misguided attempt to blame Bluebonnet for a terrible incident that we could not control,” Rose said in 2011. “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,” said Rose. “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.”

Following the fires, Bluebonnet filed a $35 million lawsuit against tree maintenance company Asplundh, saying they did not properly maintain nearby vegetation.

“We are proceeding with our suit against Asplundh and will vigorously pursue our interests through the legal process.”

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