Pacific Gas & Electric has agreed to pay more than $55 million to avoid prosecution for two large wildfires started by aging Northern California power lines owned by the nation’s largest utility, prosecutors said Monday .
PG&E admits no wrongdoing in the two settlements reached with prosecutors for last year’s Dixie Fire — one of the largest wildfires in California history — and the 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County. The accords speed up claims payments to hundreds of people whose homes were destroyed.
PG&E will also undergo five years of independent observer oversight, similar to the oversight it faced during its five-year probation period after being convicted of misconduct that contributed to its 2010 natural gas explosion that killed eight people.
Pacific Gas & Electric has been blamed for more than 30 wildfires since 2017, destroying more than 23,000 homes and businesses and killing more than 100 people. It previously reached settlements with wildfire victims of more than $25.5 billion.
The Dixie Fire burned nearly 3,900 square kilometers in Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta and Tehama counties, destroying more than 1,300 homes and other buildings. The fire was caused by a tree that struck electrical distribution lines west of a dam in the Sierra Nevada mountains where the fire started on July 13, 2021, according to investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The settlement for the Dixie fire was made by prosecutors in Plumas, Lassen, Tehama, Shasta and Butte counties, who had not yet filed charges.
Sonoma County prosecutors filed 33 criminal complaints last year charging PG&E with accidentally injuring six firefighters and endangering public health with smoke and ash from the 2019 Kincade fire.
Firefighters said a PG&E transmission line started the fire, which destroyed 374 buildings in the wine country and caused nearly 100,000 people to flee as it burned through 311 square kilometers. It was the largest evacuation in the county’s history, prosecutors said, including the entire cities of Healdsburg, Windsor and Geyserville.
The utility’s federal probation ended in late January, worrying the judge, who had used his powers to oversee the utility and compel it to reduce fire risks posed by its crumbling power lines.
At the time PG&E emerged from probation, US District Judge William Alsup warned PG&E remained a “permanent threat to California” and urged prosecutors to try to rein in the company.
See some of the devastation from 2021’s Dixie Fire: