Utility service provider Pacific Gas & Electric has agreed to pay $55 million in fines to settle civil cases against it related to the recent wildfires across California. The settlement will allow PG&E to avoid criminal prosecution over accusations that it was involved in starting the devastating wildfires across the state.
PG&E had been accused of being responsible for starting several wildfires, including last year's Dixie fire, which was the second-largest wildfire in California's history. Investigators concluded that the fire was started when a tree fell into contact with PG&E power wires near the Cresta Dam, roughly 100 miles north of Sacramento.
Under the settlement, tens of millions of dollars will be given to local organizations established to help victims of the fire, while other amounts will be given to schools and local government agencies. The settlement will also fund the establishment of an independent safety monitor.
Prosecutors claimed they filed a civil lawsuit against PG&E in order to obtain greater benefits for victims than a criminal case would have permitted. The Dixie fire, which burnt 963,000 acres and damaged more than 1,300 structures throughout Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta, and Tehama counties, resulted in maximum criminal fines of $329,417.
In Sonoma County, the Kincade fire scorched about 78,000 acres, wounded four people, and destroyed 374 structures. State authorities penalized PG&E $125 million in connection with the incident in December.
Michael L. Ramsey, the district attorney for Butte County, said the settlement is the best outcome for all the victims of the wildfires, particularly those without insurance. He added that it would help victims avoid bankruptcy due to the damage the fires had caused to their properties.
PG&E stated that it was attempting to improve its public accountability and transparency, which the settlement will aid with.
The Zogg fire, which killed four people, scorched over 56,000 acres, and destroyed 204 structures in Shasta County in fall 2020, was not included in the settlement. PG&E is accused of crimes and misdemeanors in that case, including homicide. Prosecutors from the federal and state governments have already obtained convictions and guilty pleas from PG&E in connection with gas pipeline explosions and wildfires.
PG&E is accused of committing 84 charges of involuntary homicide as a result of the Campfire in 2018, which devastated the town of Paradise. After amassing $30 billion in wildfire liabilities as a result of the Campfire and many other disasters dating back to 2015, PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection. It later emerged from bankruptcy in 2020.