PG&E Charged With Crimes in 2019 California Wildfire

Pacific Gas & Electric, the troubled utility company that started some of the most devastating forest fires in California, is being prosecuted for its role in starting a 2019 wildfire that burned 120 square kilometers in Sonoma County north of San Francisco.

The district district attorney charged PG&E, which emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, of five crimes and 28 misdemeanors, including recklessly causing a fire and causing serious injury related to the Kincade fire. The fire damaged or destroyed more than 400 buildings and seriously injured six firefighters.

This is the third set of criminal charges against PG&E, California’s largest utility company. A jury convicted PG&E in 2017 on charges of five deaths in a gas pipe explosion seven years earlier. And the utility pleaded guilty last year to 84 cases of involuntary manslaughter related to the 2018 bonfire triggered by its equipment. That fire destroyed the town of Paradise and helped bankrupt PG&E, where it helped clear an estimated $ 30 billion in forest fire liabilities.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection concluded that the Kincade fire had started after high winds knocked a cable from a PG&E tower on the Geysir geothermal field. It took 15 days to contain the fire, and District Attorney Jill Ravitch described the evacuation required in some cities as the largest ever carried out in Sonoma County, a California wine center.

If convicted, PG&E could face fines and additional penalties for violating a federal parole resulting from the pipeline explosion case. The company has paid billions of dollars to governments, families, insurance companies, and others for disasters caused by its equipment. The regulators have indicated that these have often been very poorly maintained.

In a statement Tuesday, PG&E pledged to continue improving equipment and implementing safety practices to protect Californians. The company accepted the findings that its equipment caused the Kincade fire, but did not believe it was criminally liable.

“We are sorry for the loss and personal impact on our customers and communities in and around Sonoma County as a result of the Kincade fire in October 2019,” the company said. “We don’t think there was any crime here. We continue to strive to do it right for all concerned and to work to further reduce the risk of forest fires in our system. “

The company went bankrupt last summer and agreed to pay $ 13.5 billion to a fund set up to compensate tens of thousands of individuals and families killed in forest fires struck by PG&E started, lost their homes.

The bankruptcy allowed the utility to participate with the other California utilities in a $ 20 billion state wildfire fund to help cover the costs of future forest fires.

The utility has been working to upgrade its equipment by adding weather stations, cameras, microgrids, and more stable transmission towers and wires. Patricia K. Poppe, who became CEO of PG & E’s parent company in January, said she took the job “to make sure we care for anyone who has been injured and that we get it back to California safely” .

“We will work around the clock until this applies to all the people we are allowed to serve,” she added.

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