PG&E Enters Guilty Plea For Starting 2018 CA Fires, Will Pay Out $13.5 B to Victims

California 2018 Wildfires      Photo: Naveen Nkadalaveni, Wikimedia Commons

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has agreed to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of unlawfully starting the Camp Fire, according to court documents filed in court in California on Monday, CNN reported.  The state of California’s fire investigators determined that PG&E was responsible for the tragic fire that killed 85 people and destroyed thousands of homes and commercial buildings.

Why This Matters:  California and the company agreed to financial terms last Friday under which PG&E agreed to overhaul their board of directors, and now the legal settlement is done as well.  The company may finally be able to put this devastating failure behind it.  And with $13 billion-plus in financial remuneration, hopefully the victims can rebuild as well.  But the coronavirus has left many communities, including those in Northern California, especially vulnerable because firefighters have begun to test positive for the coronavirus, according to The New York Times.  And as we head into fire season, much of the West remains in a drought — for example, California has received roughly half the amount of normal levels of precipitation for this time of year.  Yikes.

Coronavirus and Fire Risk Are A Bad Combo

Ten percent of San Jose, California’s firefighters, some of whom also help battle the state’s wildfires, are now either infected with the coronavirus or in quarantine, for example.  But as The Times reported over the weekend, they are not alone — firefighters across the country, in states including Georgia, Indiana, and Washington, are also under quarantine for coronavirus.  Firefighters are battling the virus as first responders, they live in tight quarters themselves, and once they are under quarantine, they are not available for emergency calls, even if they are not actually sick.

PG&E Was To Blame, Must Pay

Cal Fire said in a news release in May of last year that “electrical lines owned and operated by PG&E started the fire”  and the “tinder dry vegetation and Red Flag conditions consisting of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures promoted this fire and caused extreme rates of spread.” As a result, the company (not individual officers) was sentenced to a maximum fine of “no more than $3,486,950,” and it must reimburse the Butte County District Attorney’s Office $500,000 for the costs of its investigation into the blaze.  In addition, PG&E must create a trust fund of $13.5 Billion to compensate the victims of the Camp Fire and other wildfires related to its equipment failures.

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