LOS ANGELES – Pacific Gas & Electric announced Monday it has pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter related to California’s most destructive wildfire that burned much of Paradise, Calif., in 2018.
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, PGE said it reached the settlement with the Butte County district attorney’s office on March 17. Under the deal, PGE said prosecutors won’t pursue further criminal charges.
PGE also pleaded guilty to one count of causing a fire in violation of the state penal code.
“The Utility will be sentenced to pay the maximum total fine and penalty of approximately $3.5 million. The Agreement provides that no other or additional sentence will be imposed on the Utility in the criminal action in connection with the 2018 Camp fire,” PGE said in its filing. “The Utility has also agreed to pay $500,000 to the Butte County District Attorney Environmental and Consumer Protection Fund to reimburse costs spent on the investigation of the 2018 Camp fire.”
Last year, Pacific Gas & Electric admitted in federal court that its equipment probably caused 10 wildfires this year in Northern and Central California.
The Camp fire, which raced through Paradise in 2018, killed 85 people and destroyed more than 13,900 homes. Both the California Public Utilities Commission and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection concluded that poorly maintained PGE equipment sparked that blaze.
The commission also noted that for years, PGE failed to do climbing inspections of a century-old tower that malfunctioned, causing sparks where the fire originated. Investigators said there was “visible wear” on the arms of a tower linked to the blaze, but that PGE crews had not climbed the tower since at least 2001.
Such an inspection could have identified problems with a small metal hook that was supposed to hold up a transmission line and insulator on the tower, and “its timely replacement could have prevented the ignition of the Camp fire,” investigators said.
The omission of climbing inspections on the failed tower “is a violation of PG&E’s own policy requiring climbing inspections on towers where recurring problems exist,” investigators wrote.