Judge Dismisses Criminal Charges Against California Power Company in Fatal 2020 Wildfire

A California judge has thrown out all charges against Pacific Gas & Electric for its role in a fatal 2020 wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes and killed four people.

REDDING, Calif. A California judge on Wednesday dismissed all charges against Pacific Gas & Electric in connection with a fatal 2020 wildfire started by his team that destroyed hundreds of homes and killed four people, including an 8-year-old boy.

The utility also reached a $50 million settlement agreement with the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office, officials from both announced in separate statements.

The windswept fire began on September 27, 2020, and tore through rugged terrain and small communities west of Redding, killing four people, burning about 200 homes, and blackening about 87 square miles (225 square kilometers) of land in Shasta and Tehama. counties

In 2021, state fire investigators concluded that the fire was caused by a gray pine tree that fell on a PG&E distribution line. Shasta and Tehama counties sued the utility company alleging negligence. They said PG&E did not remove the tree even though it had been marked for removal two years earlier. The utility company says the tree was later cleared to stay.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett found the company criminally liable for the fire and charged the utility later that year.

Shasta Superior Court Judge Daniel E. Flynn disagreed and, in an interim ruling before Wednesday’s hearing, said prosecutors did not present sufficient evidence to show that PG&E engaged in criminal conduct, according to Sacramento. Bee, who obtained a copy of the judgment.

The “tree was not a known risk prior to the Zogg fire, and there is no evidence to support the Pueblo’s assertion in its opposition that it was,” the judge wrote.

The utility said in a statement that under the settlement with Shasta County, which is subject to court approval, it will fund $45 million in contributions to organizations dedicated to rebuilding and helping local communities. The company will also pay a $5 million civil penalty to the county.

“We stand with our thousands of trained and experienced co-workers and contractors who work every day to keep Californians safe. We strongly believe that such good faith lawsuits are not criminal,” said Patti Poppe, CEO of PG&E Corporation.

Bridgett said her goal was always to take PG&E to trial and hold them criminally accountable, but Flynn’s interim ruling changed her position and she agreed to a settlement that includes dropping all charges.

“I am not willing to gamble with Shasta County security,” she said. “I have a responsibility to the community and needed to secure what I can for all citizens to prevent future wildfires, prevent future death and devastation, and be as prepared as possible in our county if another one occurs.”

Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a $150 million settlement between Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the CPUC’s Division of Enforcement and Safety over PG&E’s role in the Zogg fire. As part of the agreement, the utility will pay a $10 million penalty to the California General Fund and invest $140 million in shareholder funds in new wildfire mitigation efforts, officials said.