Highlands Ranch HOA sues Xcel Energy over dual wildfires sparked by utility’s equipment
Two Douglas County wildfires four years apart that were sparked by faulty Xcel Energy equipment show the company has failed to properly maintain its infrastructure, a homeowners association alleged in a lawsuit filed this week.
Attorneys for the BackCountry Association, the homeowners association for about 1,200 homes in Highlands Ranch’s Chatridge neighborhood, say Xcel’s power poles sparked a 205-acre wildfire in 2016 and a second 461-acre wildfire in nearly the same location in 2020. Both fires, known as Chatridge 1 and Chatridge 2, forced evacuations and threatened homes.
The first fire started Oct. 28, 2016, near Chatridge Court and Highway 85; fire investigators found parts of a power pole had fallen to the ground where the fire began. The second fire, on June 29, 2020, started in the same area because “hot hardware” on an electric pole ignited brush, according to the lawsuit.
The fires started in the same area but not at exactly the same power pole, said Eric Hurst, spokesman for South Metro Fire Rescue.
“The two fires, while they were close and their burn scars overlapped, the areas of origin were separate,” he said, adding that both were caused by Xcel’s equipment.
A third fire in the area, called Chatridge 3, sparked in December 2021; authorities were not able to pinpoint its cause.
Attorneys for the HOA argue that Xcel has been negligent and failed to properly maintain its equipment, putting the area in “unreasonable risk of harm” from wildfires. They also claim in the lawsuit that Xcel refused to share its internal investigations into the fires with South Metro Fire Rescue unless they were served a subpoena.
Michelle Aguayo, a spokeswoman for Xcel, said the company has not received the lawsuit and does not comment on pending litigation, but that Xcel follows “industry best practices when designing, constructing and operating our system.”
Attorneys for the BackCountry Association did not return a request for comment.
The homeowners association says the fires have decreased property values, harmed the natural beauty of the area, eroded soil and caused other damages.
The lawsuit comes as investigators continue to look into the cause of the Marshall fire in Boulder County, the state’s most destructive wildfire, which sparked Dec. 30.
That blaze was initially blamed on fallen Xcel power lines, but authorities later walked that back, with Xcel claiming the downed lines were communication lines, not power lines. The cause of the Marshall fire remains under investigation, though the utility is facing a lawsuit that alleges it essentially started the blaze.