REDDING, Calif. (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric has been charged with manslaughter and other crimes in a Northern California wildfire last year that killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes.
Investigators determined that aging equipment belonging to the nation’s largest utility sparked the Zogg Fire last September near the city of Redding.
Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett announced the 31 charges, including 11 felonies, on Friday. She said in July that her office had determined that PG&E was “criminally liable” for the fire.
“Charges do include four charges for manslaughter for the four victims that passed in this case,” Bridgett told FOX40.
It is the latest action against the utility, which pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter over a 2018 blaze in the town of Paradise that was ignited by its long-neglected electrical grid. It was the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century.
Company officials have acknowledged that PG&E hasn’t lived up to expectations in the past but said changes in leadership and elsewhere ensure it’s on the right track and will do better. They have listed a wide range of improvements that include using more advanced technology to avoid setting wildfires and help detect them quicker.
Sacramento-area attorney Mark Reichel said more needs to be done than just criminally charge a major corporation.
“They’re going to have to find a way to start linking this to individuals either with their salaries, their bonuses, their stock they hold, or whatever,” Reichel said.
Pushed by strong winds, the Zogg Fire raged through the rugged Sierra Nevada and communities, killing four and burning about 200 homes. PG&E denied an on-camera interview but did provide a pre-recorded message from their CEO.
“We did not commit a crime,” said Patti Poppe.
While PG&E agrees its equipment started the fire, they said they did everything they could to prevent the fire.
“Two trained arborists walked this line and independently determined the tree in question could stay,” Poppe said.
But it’s that answer that Jamie Court with Consumer Watchdog said is a slap in the face to victims’ families and people affected by the fire.
“Blame the tree doctor rather than the company is just a failure to accept responsibility,” Court said.
The DA’s office said jail time is not a possibility in the case, but Bridgett said she’ll do her best to hold the utility company accountable.
“Fines, fees, court-ordered mitigation efforts or other conditions, as well as probation,” Bridgett said.
PG&E said they are continuing to do work to prevent wildfires. So far, the company said they have spent $1.4 billion in vegetation management to remove and trim trees as well as working to hide wires.
PG&E Corporation shared the following statement from CEO Patti Poppe following criminal charges filed by the Shasta County District Attorney’s office: