Coverage: California concludes that PG&E caused huge fire
California investigators found that PG&E Corp.’s equipment sparked the deadliest wildfire in state history, putting additional pressure on a company already facing billions of dollars in fire-related liability costs.
Katherine Blunt of The Wall Street Journal had the news:
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Wednesday it had determined that a PG&E electric-transmission line near the town of Pulga, Calif., ignited last year’s Camp Fire, which spread quickly across dry vegetation in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevada, killing 85 people and destroying the town of Paradise.
State fire investigators also said they identified a second point of ignition where vegetation blew into the company’s electric-distribution lines, starting another fire that was consumed by the first one. Cal Fire sent its investigative report to the Butte County District Attorney’s office, which will determine whether the company will face criminal charges.
The findings—which end months of speculation about the utility’s role in the massive wildfire—raise the likelihood that PG&E could face billions of dollars in liability costs related to its role in the November fire.
PG&E sought bankruptcy protection in January in anticipation of more than $30 billion in potential liability costs. It said earlier this year that its equipment was probably the cause of the Camp Fire.
Jeff Daniels of CNBC.com reported that lawsuits related to the fire could take years to resolve:
Lawsuits from Camp Fire survivors could take years to resolve, and PG&E could potentially face criminal charges in connection with the 2018 blaze. Cal Fire said its investigative report was forwarded to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.
Ramsey’s office did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The 2018 blaze destroyed about 90% of the town of Paradise, which once had a population of nearly 27,000 residents. Survivors of the disaster have since been relocated to nearby communities, including Chico and Oroville.
According to Cal Fire, the cause of the Camp Fire was power lines owned and operated by PG&E in the Pulga area of Butte County.
Joseph Serna and Taryn Luna of the Los Angeles Times reported that PG&E’s new CEO testified Wednesday:
The utility’s new chief executive, William “Bill” Johnson, testified in a committee hearing at the state Capitol Wednesday as the news was announced.
“It’s a disappointment that this happened,” Johnson said to state lawmakers. “Let’s not do it again.”
Johnson pledged that the company would demonstrate a higher commitment to safety under his watch, which includes visually inspecting all of its equipment in areas of high fire risk, intensifying vegetation management and shutting off power in advance of dangerous conditions.
“I will tell you we will be laser-focused on safety, but I won’t expect you to believe that until you see the results,” Johnson said. “The outcomes for the people, the citizens, the customers, have to be better here.”
PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection because of losses from the Nov. 8 fire, which scorched more than 153,000 acres and has put new pressure on utilities to improve the safety of their power distribution systems.