In connection with the deaths of four people in a wildfire in Northern California last year, prosecutors filed criminal charges against Pacific Gas & Electric on Friday. The blaze was connected to the utility’s equipment, according to prosecutors.
The charges were brought by the Shasta County district attorney in connection with the Zogg fire, which destroyed 204 buildings and burned more than 56,000 acres near Redding. Manslaughter, as well as other crimes and misdemeanours, are among the charges levelled against him.
It was discovered during an investigation conducted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that the fire was started when a pine tree came into contact with electrical wires owned and managed by Pacific Gas and Electric. A spokesperson for PG&E said that the company has cooperated with the inquiry.
She said that the case against PG&E includes accusations of criminal arson in connection with three additional incidents that occurred last year and this year. She said that her office will pursue sanctions, which may include fines, fees, and remedial and corrective action, as well as other measures.
According to Patricia K. Poppe, PG&E’s chief executive officer, who joined the business in January, the utility contests the allegations, which she stated in a statement on Friday. The fact that PG&E has been charged with a felony, she added, “may be gratifying for the business,” but “we are looking forward to our day in court.”
When the 2018 Camp Fire devastated the town of Paradise, PG&E admitted responsibility and was fined $3.5 million, which was the highest punishment permitted by state law, the company was sentenced to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter. This prompted the company, which had accumulated $30 billion in liabilities due to wildfires caused by its equipment, to apply for bankruptcy protection in January 2019. The utility had previously filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008.
The Zogg fire broke out in July of last year, only two months after PG&E emerged from bankruptcy protection. PG&E is suspected of being the cause of three fires this year, including the Dixie fire, which was the second-largest fire in California history and was blamed on the company.
PG&E has been on probation since its first criminal conviction, which occurred in 2016, for a gas pipeline explosion that occurred in the San Bruno, California, community six years earlier. The explosion resulted in the deaths of eight individuals.
Following the Kincade fire, which damaged or destroyed more than 400 buildings and seriously injured six firefighters in 2019, the district attorney of Sonoma County charged PG&E with five felonies and 28 misdemeanours, including recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury, as part of a broader investigation.
The California Public Utilities Commission is investigating the circumstances surrounding the Zogg fire and whether or not PG&E was responsible. In addition to any judicial punishments, the commission has the authority to issue fines. PG&E was penalised almost $2 billion by regulators in 2017 and 2018 for sparking wildfires, notably the Camp fire, in California.