On Friday, Sept. 24, prosecutors accused Pacific Gas & Electric—a U.S. power company, of manslaughter and other crimes after its cables, sparked a deadly California fire that killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes last year.
When power lines operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) came into contact with a tree in September 2020 and ignited the Zogg Fire, which burned more than 56,000 acres (22,000 hectares). In addition to claiming four lives, the Zogg Fire destroyed roughly 200 homes.
According to state fire investigators, the fire was ignited by a gray pine tree that fell onto a PG&E transmission line in March. The counties of Shasta and Tehama have sued PG&E for negligence, charging that the utility failed to remove the tree despite it being marked for removal two years ago. It was then subsequently cleared to stay, CBS News reports.
Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett announced that PG&E was charged with 31 charges, including 11 felonies, because it failed to perform its legal duties and that its “failure was reckless and criminally negligent, and it resulted in the death of four people.
“We have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Pacific Gas and Electric Company is criminally liable for their reckless ignition of the Zogg Fire and the deaths and destruction that it caused,” Bridgett said.
On Friday, although PG&E CEO Patti Poppe accepted the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s determination (Cal Fire) that the fire was sparked when a tree fell on its power line, she denied being legally responsible for the fire, saying failure to prevent the fire was not a crime.
“We’ve accepted (the fire department’s) determination, reached earlier this year, that a tree contacted our electric line and started the Zogg Fire. But we did not commit a crime,” said Patti Poppe.
“We’ve already resolved many victim claims arising from the Zogg Fire… and we are working hard to resolve the remaining claims.”
This year, the company announced that it would bury 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) of powerlines to keep them away from vegetation.
While no individual can go to jail if a company is criminally charged, it will pay unknown penalties, fines, and remedial costs if the company is convicted.
A corporation “can’t go to jail, so we’re talking fines, fees, the ability for the court to order remedial and corrective measures,” Bridgett said.
“One of our primary functions here is to hold them responsible and let the surviving families know that their loved one did not die in vain,” she continued.
Last year, PG&E was blamed for the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 people, destroyed 10,000 houses, and virtually wiped out the town of Paradise. Camp Fire was considered the deadliest and most devastating fire in the state’s history.
The company has also admitted that its equipment may have sparked the Dixie Fire this summer, which has burned roughly 1 million acres and is currently the state’s second-largest wildfire.
Another devastating wildfire season is now raging across the western United States.