PG&E is ‘Criminally Liable’ Over Deadly California Fire, Says Prosecutor

Stephanie Bridgett, Shasta County District Attorney, declared on Facebook that her office has found that Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was “criminally culpable” for the Zogg Fire.

PG&E might face criminal prosecution in connection with a devastating wildfire in Northern California that destroyed hundreds of houses. A Northern California prosecutor stated Thursday that the company’s equipment was to blame for a fire that killed four people last year.

Although the specific charges have not been determined, Bridgett said prosecutors intend to file them before the September anniversary of the fire.

This would be the latest legal action against the country’s largest utility, which was forced into bankruptcy following the outbreak of disastrous wildfires caused by its long-neglected electrical grid.

PG&E described the death toll and devastation caused by the fire as “heartbreaking” but added that it had settled civil claims with Shasta County and is continuing to reach out to the victims’ families “in an effort to make things right.”

“We do not, however, agree with the district attorney’s conclusion that criminal charges are warranted given the facts of this case,” the utility stated in a statement.

State fire investigators determined in March that the fire was started when a gray pine tree fell onto a PG&E transmission wire. Shasta and Tehama counties have sued PG&E for negligence, alleging that the utility failed to remove the tree although it had been marked for removal two years prior.

PG&E, which serves an estimated 16 million customers in central and northern California, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019 following a series of fires, including the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and damaged 10,000 houses.

Last July, the company emerged from bankruptcy and reached a $13.5 billion settlement with many wildfire victims. However, it continues to face legal and criminal lawsuits.

PG&E revealed plans last week to bury 10,000 miles of its power lines in an attempt to avert wildfires caused by electrical equipment colliding with millions of trees and other plants throughout the drought-stricken state. The cost has been estimated at $15 billion, with the majority expected to be financed by customers.