Risk & Compliance

California Faults PG&E for Deadly Wildfire

State investigators say PG&E equipment caused the Camp blaze for which the utility has already set aside $10.5 billion to cover legal claims.
Matthew HellerMay 16, 2019
California Faults PG&E for Deadly Wildfire

The deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history was sparked by a malfunction of PG&E electrical equipment, a state investigation has concluded.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spent six months investigating the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people, destroyed nearly 14,000 homes, and helped push PG&E into bankruptcy.

“After a very meticulous and thorough investigation, Cal Fire has determined that the Camp Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity (PG&E) located in the Pulga area,” the agency said in a news release.

The utility has already set aside $10.5 billion to cover claims of scores of victims of the wildfire. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Cal Fire’s announcement “smoothes the path for lawsuits that have piled up against the utility and opens the door for possible criminal prosecution.”

“Now the day of reckoning has come,” Frank Pitre, a lawyer for victims, 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,” he added.

PG&E filed Chapter 11 in January, listing more than $51 billion in debts. The Camp Fire that erupted on Nov. 8 in rural Butte County and almost wiped out the entire town of Paradise has added to its potential liabilities, which also include blazes that torched California’s wine country in 2017.

The utility had acknowledged in February that its equipment was the probable source of the Camp Fire.

“It was not a surprise,” CEO Bill Johnson said of the Cal Fire finding. “I don’t think it will affect the course of the bankruptcy. It certainly brings even greater urgency to our need to inspect, repair, have a power safety shut-off plan, to do all these things we’re doing and do them in a hurry so that we don’t have another event like that.”