by Olga R. Rodriguez | The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO – Pacific Gas & Electric was charged Friday with involuntary manslaughter and other crimes after its devices started a northern California wildfire that killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes last year. Were gone, prosecutors said.
It’s the latest legal action against the nation’s biggest utility, which pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in 2018 ignited by its long-neglected electrical grid that nearly destroyed the City of Paradise and the deadliest American wilderness. became a fire. century.
Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridget announced 31 charges, including 11 felony charges against PG&E, saying it failed to perform its legal duties and that its “failure was negligent and criminally negligent, And as a result four people died.”
If the utility is convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the punishment would be a fine for each person killed in the Zog Fire near the city of Redding last year. A corporation “can’t go to jail, so we’re talking fines, fees, the ability for the court to order remedial and corrective measures,” Bridget said.
“One of our primary tasks here is to hold them accountable and let the surviving families know that their loved one did not die,” she said.
PG&E CEO Patti Pope said failing to stop the fire is not a crime.
“It was a tragedy, four people died. And my coworkers are working very hard to stop the fires and the devastating damage that comes with them. He has dedicated his career to it, making his decision a crime is not right,” Poppe said in a statement.
The wind-driven Zog Fire began on September 27, 2020, and spread to rugged areas and small communities west of Redding, killing four people, burning nearly 200 homes and blackening nearly 87 square miles of land. happened. Three of the victims died when they tried to douse the fire and were found inside or near their vehicles. The fourth victim died in the hospital.
In March, state fire investigators concluded that the fire was caused by a gray pine tree that had fallen on a PG&E transmission line. Shasta and Tehama counties have sued the utility, alleging negligence, that PG&E failed to remove the tree, although it was marked for removal two years earlier. The utility says the tree was later cleared for living.
The district attorney determined that the company was criminally liable for the fire. Friday’s charges include aggravation for the injury of a 29-year-old firefighter who was hit by a falling tree, breaking his spine, causing him to fall through the chest. Bridget said they also included felony arsonism involving multiple fires started by utility equipment in Shasta County last year.
PG&E, which has an estimated 16 million customers in Central and Northern California, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019 after its old equipment was blamed for a series of fires, including the 2018 Camp Fire, In which 85 people were killed and 10,000 homes destroyed in Paradise and Neighborhood. Community
Company executives have acknowledged that PG&E has not lived up to expectations in the past, but said changes in leadership and elsewhere ensure it is on the right track and will do better. He lists a wide range of improvements that include using more advanced technology to avoid starting wildfires and help them detect them early.
PG&E also remains on criminal probation for a 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, prompting a federal judge to supervise the company. Judges and California electricity regulators have reprimanded PG&E for breaking promises to reduce the dangers posed by trees near its power lines.
The company has acknowledged that its equipment may have played a role in instigating this summer’s Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 1 million acres and is now the second-largest wildfire in the state’s history.
PG&E emerged from bankruptcy last summer and negotiated a $13.5 billion settlement with some wildfire victims. But it still faces both civil and criminal actions, including charges from the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office over the 2019 Kinkade fire, which forced the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people.
Meanwhile, most of the nearly 70,000 victims who have filed claims for devastation caused by PG&E’s past misdeeds are still awaiting payment from a trust created during the bankruptcy. The trust, which is run independently from PG&E, is facing a deficit of about $2 billion because half of its funds came from the company’s stock.
This story has been corrected to show that the Zog Fire did not burn in the Sierra Nevada.