Apr 6, 2021 - Energy & Environment

PG&E faces 33 criminal charges for 2019 wildfire

A vehicle burned out by the Kincade Fire sits at the Garden Creek Vineyards in Geyserville, California,
A vehicle burned out by the Kincade Fire in Geyserville, Calif. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A California prosecutor on Tuesday filed 33 criminal charges against Pacific Gas & Electric for the 2019 Kincade Fire, which injured six firefighters, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate.

Driving the news: Cal Fire concluded that the October 2019 fire was caused by a jumper cable on a PG&E transmission tower that broke due to high winds. PG&E on Tuesday acknowledged that its transmission line caused the fire, but the company did not agree that a crime was committed.

Details: The Sonoma County district attorney charged PG&E with five felony and 28 misdemeanor counts, including unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in great bodily injury and unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in the burning of inhabited structures.

PG&E said in a statement that "in the spirit of working to do what’s right for the victims, we will accept CAL FIRE’s finding that a PG&E transmission line caused the fire, even though we have not had access to the agency’s report or the evidence it gathered."

  • "However, we do not believe there was any crime here. We remain committed to making it right for all those impacted and working to further reduce wildfire risk on our system.”

The big picture: Last year, the utility company pleaded guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter for its role in starting the 2018 Camp Fire.

  • The company was fined $4 million, but no one went to prison.
  • "PG&E emerged from bankruptcy protection shortly after those guilty pleas after negotiating a series of settlements to cover the damages caused by its fraying grid," AP noted. Those included a $13.5 billion fund to help victims of wildfires.

The bottom line: "The Sonoma case shows that PG&E, nearly a year removed from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy driven by wildfire liabilities, continues to struggle with fire risk and its legal consequences," the Sacramento Bee wrote.

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