The Shasta County District Attorney’s Office has filed 31 criminal charges against Pacific Gas & Electric for its role in the 2020 Zogg fire, which killed four people and destroyed more than 200 buildings last year, officials announced Friday.
The charges include 11 felonies and 20 misdemeanors, as well as multiple enhancements, District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said. The filing includes manslaughter charges for the deaths.
“We have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Pacific Gas & Electric Company is criminally liable for their reckless ignition of the Zogg fire and the deaths and destruction that it caused,” Bridgett said.
The charges come days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the fire, which sparked Sept. 27, 2020, and burned through more than 56,000 acres before crews contained it about two weeks later.
The blaze ripped through rural communities in Shasta and Tehama counties, killing Karen King, 79; Kenneth Vossen, 52; Alaina Rowe McLeod, 46, and her 8-year-old daughter, Feyla McLeod.
As the fire burned, investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection seized PG&E equipment and determined that the fire had been caused by “a pine tree contacting electrical distribution lines owned and operated” by the utility north of the community of Igo.
PG&E said at the time that it had fully cooperated with the investigation.
In July, Bridgett said the utility was criminally liable for its role in sparking the fire and that she was working to determine the nature of the charges.
Friday’s filing was spurred by PG&E’s “statutory and regulatory duties to mitigate fire risks by removing hazardous trees from around their electrical lines,” she said. “In this case, they failed to perform their legal duties.”
Corporations can be held criminally liable for the crimes of their directors, agents and employees, she said. The filing also includes felony arson charges for utility’s role in other Shasta County fires over the last year-and-a-half.
Possible penalties include fines, fees and the ability for the court to order remedial and corrective measures, Bridgett said.
A representative for PG&E did not immediately respond to requests for comment, although the utility in July said it had already resolved civil claims with the county and was negotiating settlements with individual victims.
“We do not, however, agree with the district attorney’s conclusion that criminal charges are warranted given the facts of this case,” a company spokesperson said at the time.
The latest charges are not the first time PG&E has been held responsible for its role in the state’s wildfires. Multibillion-dollar legal liabilities from 2018’s Camp fire and other blazes pushed the utility into bankruptcy in January 2019.
PG&E eventually pled guilty to 84 deaths from the Camp fire, the deadliest wildfire in state history.
Though it emerged from bankruptcy the following year, PG&E has continued to face legal challenges. In July, the utility said its equipment may have sparked the Dixie fire in Plumas County, which became the second-largest wildfire in California history.
The power line suspected of sparking that fire had been set to be buried, but the work was not completed before a Douglas fir fell onto the line and blew two fuses.
The Dixie fire burned through more than 960,000 acres and leveled the town of Greenville. More than 200 victims of the fire are suing PG&E.
Friday’s action out of Shasta County brings yet another mark against the beleaguered utility, which has vowed to take more safety measures to prevent similar disasters.
“You may wonder, Why [file] criminal charges against a corporation that can’t go to jail,” Bridgett said. “Well, because PG&E has a history with repeated patterns of causing wildfires that is not getting better. It’s only getting worse.”