PG&E Plead Guilty on Account of Deadly Campfires in 2018: 13.5$ Billion Settlement

Image Source: Veriforce

Andrea Nikolov
Staff Photographer

In recent years the state of California has seen an increase in wildfires all around. However, in 2018, California saw one of its deadliest wildfires ever. It started in Butte County, in Paradise, took the lives of over 84 people, and burned more than 150,000 acres of land and around 18,000 homes in residential areas. The fire began on November 8th of 2018 and ended, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), on November 25th, 2018.

After the fire was completely extinguished the culprit was found to be Pacific Gas and Electric Company. More specifically, it was one of the company’s faulty towers located in Sierra Nevada, Tower 27/222. One of its wires broke free due to strong winds and caused the spark that began the most devastating fire in state history.

This was not the first time that PG&E were found guilty for state fires. They were thought to be at fault for over five of the most destructive wildfires in California from 2015 in Sacramento burning over 70,000 acres of land, to 2017 where four different locations around Napa began to burn over 100,000 acres. Through further investigation into these fires, PG&E had been found violating many state laws and ignoring precautionary measures to ensure civilian safety; Tower 27/222 was found to be almost 99 years old, it was corroded, and it was high risk for an accident since this was an area known for strong winds.

The company was put under much pressure since they seemed to have been the cause of over 1,500 fires since 2014; many have expressed their concern towards the company including Governor Gavin Newson, the governor of California, who said that the company had been lying and was caught misleading the public, and that “they should not be trusted”. PG&E was evidently sued by several law firms causing the power company to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 protection.

This meant that the company would go through a reorganization of its objectives and its forms of protection of the people, followed by a settlement hearing. One of the ways that the company had tried to cut down on risk of wildfires was to de-energize homes, meaning Public Safety Power Shutoffs for a couple of days during windy and dry weather. PG&E admits that estimates put the victim’s losses and damages over the settlement price given by the company, but it would help the victims of the fire by rebuilding their homes and assuring them a better future.

The settlement that took place on December 20th of 2019 was very important since it was enough to put the company in check, and expose it for its misconduct and unsafe activities, but it also helped many of the people that were affected by the fires. In addition to the unsafe protocols, the company was found making repairs and improvements on its utilities after major events. In fact, it was scrutinized when a company email was recovered during one of the hearings in which workers expressed serious concern for the Tower, but it was eventually left standing. PG&E has a very long history of problems in safety as the company seems to take incorrect steps in safety like when they decided to change wires but leave century old towers standing. The state of California continues to do business with the power company, but the future will show if the company takes serious action to prevent natural disasters caused by humans and climate change.

Originally Published on Vol.49 Issue 12 on April 1st, 2020