Topline: California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, was directly responsible for igniting the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, a state agency ruled Wednesday. The finding opens up the door for the utility to be on the hook for more than $10 billion in damages and even possible criminal charges.
PG&E did not immediately respond to request for comment.
- State investigators concluded that electrical transmission lines owned and operated by PG&E were the cause of the deadly Camp Fire in November 2018.
- The fire destroyed more than 18,000 buildings and killed 85 people. Nearly the entire of Paradise, California was reduced to ashes.
- Total liability, including damages covered under insurance and additional costs, could add up to more than $10 billion.
- The company could also face criminal charges over the Camp Fire if it is found to be criminally negligent. The California Secretary of State did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes about possible charges. Mike Ramsey, the Butte County district attorney, told Forbes the ruling was only part of the state’s sweeping criminal investigation, which will take weeks or months to complete.
More trouble: PG&E had already admitted its equipment might be the cause of the fire, and filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year. Since the fire, the company’s profits have plummeted 70%. The utility is also being investigated by the SEC over whether it properly disclosed and accounted for losses related to wildfires, according to KQED.
In another sign of upheaval, PG&E replaced its CEO and most of its Board of Directors in early April.
Key P.O.V: “Now the day of reckoning has come,” Frank Pitre, a lawyer for victims who is based in the Bay Area, told The New York Times. “If PG&E wants to do the honorable thing, they should stop spending tens of millions of dollars in bankruptcy court and begin putting together the plan to compensate the victims.”