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PG&E avoids criminal charges for starting two wildfires

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will avoid criminal prosecution for two wildfires started by its equipment under settlements announced Monday by prosecutors in six northern California counties.

Under the agreements, no criminal charges will be filed in connection with the Dixie fire last year, and a criminal complaint relating to the Kincade fire in 2019 will be dismissed. The utility is still facing charges in the 2020 Zogg Fire, which killed four people and destroyed more than 200 buildings when it burned 56,000 acres in Shasta and Tehama counties.

In return, PG&E agreed to pay approximately $55 million over five years in civil penalties and payments to local nonprofits and educational organizations. The utility will also launch a direct claims program for victims of the Dixie fire through which those who have lost their homes can submit claims for expedited review, approval and payment, according to PG&E.

“While the criminal charges are dismissed, the level of punishment and oversight provided by this judgment is greater than what could be obtained against a corporation in criminal court,” Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said in a statement. a statement. The costs will not be passed on to taxpayers, she said.

PG&E also agreed to hire 160 to 200 employees in Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta, Sonoma and Tehama counties to bolster safety work and to undertake a five-year oversight of its system inspection work and vegetation management in these counties. The work will be overseen by a team of independent experts with Filsinger Energy Partners, according to a press release from the Sonoma County Attorney’s Office.

PG&E had faced five felony counts and 28 misdemeanor charges in the Kincade fire, including recklessly starting a fire that seriously injured six firefighters. Proceedings in the case had begun and included two days of testimony at a preliminary hearing. PG&E agreed to reimburse Sonoma County $750,000 for the costs of investigating and prosecuting the case.

The fire started on October 23, 2019 under a PG&E transmission tower near the Geysers geothermal field in northern Sonoma County. It burned more than 77,000 acres, destroyed 374 buildings and seriously injured six firefighters in 15 days, prompting the largest evacuation in county history.

An investigation by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection later identified the cause of the fire as a broken jumper cable that failed after years of wear caused by the wind and shattered. is formed against a steel transmission tower, sending sparks into the dry vegetation below.

PG&E separately agreed to pay $125 million in fines and penalties as part of a settlement reached with the California Public Utilities Commission in connection with the fire.

The Dixie Fire began on July 13, 2020 in Feather River Canyon when a Douglas fir fell on an electrical distribution line, which Cal Fire investigators identified as the cause of the nearly 1000 acre blaze. a million acres. In documents filed in Federal Court, PG&E described a series of incidents and delays that resulted in an employee not reaching the site until about 10 hours later, when a fire of 600 to 800 square feet had lit up.

The utility said its equipment could also be the cause of the Fly fire, which started nine days later and eventually merged with the Dixie fire.

District attorneys in at least two counties — Butte and Plumas — had been investigating PG&E for possible criminal liability in the fire.

This is a developing story. It will be updated as new information becomes available.

Los Angeles Times

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