The nation’s largest utility was charged with manslaughter and different crimes in reference to a California wildfire that killed 4 folks final 12 months and destroyed a whole lot of properties and charred 1000’s of acres, prosecutors mentioned Friday.
In a information convention, Shasta County District Legal professional Stephanie Bridgett mentioned Pacific Fuel & Electrical was criminally answerable for the blaze. The fees are a part of a laundry listing of authorized motion in opposition to the power company, which has been blamed for different giant wildfires throughout the state in recent times.
In complete, Bridgett introduced 31 fees – together with 11 felonies – accusing PG&E of failing to mitigate the danger of fireplace by not eradicating hazardous bushes round electrical traces.
“Their failure was reckless and criminally negligent, and it resulted within the dying of 4 folks,” she mentioned. “The job of a district legal professional is to deal with these prison issues once they happen. Whether or not it is a robber, a rapist, a assassin or an organization, I’ll use each instrument doable to advertise public security.”
The fees stem from the Zogg Fire, which broke out on Sept. 27, 2020 and raged for 16 days in Northern California. Three of the victims died whereas making an attempt to outrun the fireplace and had been present in or close to their automobiles. The fourth died in a hospital.
In a video assertion, PG&E CEO Patti Poppe mentioned the corporate didn’t commit a criminal offense, whereas noting the state’s excessive drought circumstances and local weather have modified the connection between bushes and energy traces.
“This was a tragedy, 4 folks died,” she mentioned. “And my coworkers are working so arduous to forestall fires and the catastrophic losses that include them. They’ve devoted their careers to it, criminalizing their judgment will not be proper.”
“We’re placing every part we’ve received into stopping wildfires and lowering the danger,” Poppe added. “Although it might really feel satisfying for the corporate of PG&E to be charged with a criminal offense, what I do know is the corporate of PG&E is folks, 40,000 individuals who stand up day by day to make it secure and to finish catastrophic wildfire and tragedies like this. Let’s be clear, my coworkers are usually not criminals. We welcome our day in court docket so folks can study simply that.”
State hearth investigators decided the Zogg Hearth was ignited by grey pine tree that fell onto a PG&E transmission line. Shasta and Tehama counties have sued the utility alleging negligence, saying PG&E had did not take away the tree despite the fact that it had been marked for elimination two years earlier.
The utility pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter final 12 months in reference to a 2018 blaze – the deadliest in america in a century. That fireside was ignited by a neglected electrical grid that destroyed the city of Paradise.
The corporate emerged from chapter final 12 months and negotiated a $13.5 billion settlement with some wildfire victims. Nevertheless it nonetheless faces each civil and criminal actions, together with fees from the Sonoma County district legal professional’s workplace over the 2019 Kincade Fire that pressured practically 200,000 folks to evacuate.
The Related Press contributed to this report.