Tue, 19 Oct 2021

Fatal wildfire blamed on California utility

Robert Besser
29 Sep 2021, 12:14 GMT+10

LOS ANGELES, California: On Friday, the Pacific Gas and Electric utility company (PG&E), which has an estimated 16 million customers in Central and Northern California, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and other crimes.

Prosecutors said the company's equipment caused a Northern California wildfire, the Zogg Fire, which killed four people, destroyed hundreds of homes and burned 87 square miles of land last year.

PG&E, the largest utility in the U.S., pleaded guilty in 2020 to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter caused by a 2018 fire ignited by its neglected electricity grid, which became the deadliest U.S. wildfire in 100 years.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said the company failed to perform its legal duties, which "resulted in the deaths of four people," while announcing 31 charges, including 11 felonies.

"One of our primary functions is to hold them responsible and let surviving families know that their loved ones did not die in vain," she added.

Failing to prevent the fire was not a crime, said PG&E CEO Patti Poppe, who added, "This was a tragedy, four people died. My coworkers are working so hard to prevent fires and the catastrophic losses that come with them. They have dedicated their careers to it. Criminalizing their judgment is not right," according to the Associated Press.

The Zogg Fire began on 27th September, 2020. In March, 2021 state fire investigators concluded the wildfire was sparked by a gray pine tree that fell on a PG&E distribution line.

Shasta and Tehama counties sued the company for negligence, and the district attorney determined the utility company was criminally liable.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019, and company officials admitted it has not met past expectations, but stressed that a new leadership and other changes will ensure it is on the right track.

PG&E remains on criminal probation after a pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area city of San Bruno in 2010, which killed eight people.

The company also acknowledged its equipment may have partly caused this summer's Dixie Fire, which destroyed nearly 1 million acres and has become California's second-largest wildfire.

Although it still faces both civil and criminal actions, PG&E escaped from bankruptcy last summer and negotiated a $13.5 billion settlement with victims.

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