REDDING (Calif.) (AP). A California judge dismissed on Wednesday all charges against Pacific Gas & Electric for a fatal wildfire that was started by their equipment in 2020. The fire destroyed hundreds of houses and killed four people including an eight-year-old.
Officials from both sides announced separately that the utility and Shasta County District Attorney's Office had also reached an agreement to settle for $50 million.
The fire began on September 27, 2020 and spread through the rugged terrain and small towns west of Redding. It killed four people and destroyed about 200 homes, as well as 87 square miles (225 sq km) of land.
State fire investigators in 2021 concluded that the fire was caused by a gray-pine tree which fell on a PG&E transmission line. Shasta and Tehama Counties sued the utility for negligence. They claimed that PG&E did not remove the tree, despite it being marked for removal more than two years ago. The utility claims that the tree was cleared and allowed to remain.
Shasta County District attorney Stephanie Bridgett found that the company had criminal liability for the fire. She charged the utility in the following year.
The Sacramento Bee obtained a copy. Judge Daniel E. Flynn of Shasta Superior Court disagreed and said that prosecutors had not presented enough evidence showing PG&E's criminal conduct.
The judge stated that the 'tree' was not known to be a risk before the Zogg Fire, and the People did not provide any evidence to back up their claim.
In a press release, the utility stated that, under an agreement with Shasta County which is subjected to court approvals, it would fund $45 millions in contributions for organizations dedicated to helping local communities rebuild and recover. The company will pay a civil penalty of $5 million to the county.
We stand by our thousands of experienced and trained coworkers who work every day to ensure the safety of Californians. Patti Poppe said, 'We feel that these good-faith judgements are not crimes.
Bridgett stated that her original goal was to bring PG&E before a court and criminally charge them, but Flynn’s tentative ruling changed Bridgett’s position. She agreed to a settlement which included dropping all charges.
She said, "I'm not willing to gamble on the safety of Shasta County." "I had a duty to my community to do what I could to protect all citizens and prevent further wildfires. To prevent future deaths, devastation and destruction, and be as prepared as possible for our county if another fire occurs."
The California Public Utilities Commission last week approved a settlement of $150 million between Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and CPUC Safety and Enforcement Division regarding PG&E’s role in the Zogg Fire. Officials said that as part of the settlement, the utility would pay $10 million to California's General Fund and invest $140 in shareholder funds into new wildfire prevention efforts.