California utility PG&E agrees to pay $125 million for destructive Kinkade wildfire

04 November 2021

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USA – Pacific Gas & Electric has agreed to a $125 million settlement with California regulators for its role in igniting the Kincade wildfire in 2019, which scorched nearly 122 square miles, destroyed hundreds of buildings and injured four people.

The utility company will pay $40 million to California’s general fund and will spend another $85 million to remove old transmission equipment in the state, according to California Public Utilities Commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division.

The Safety and Enforcement Division wrote in a report last month that “PG&E did not furnish and maintain its facilities in a manner that promoted the safety and health of its patrons.”

“PG&E left abandoned equipment energized for thirteen years even though that equipment provided no benefit or convenience to the public,” the report said.

On Oct. 23, 2019, a transmission tower jumper cable broke off and let out sparks, starting the fire on a night when nearby wind gusts reached 63 mph, according to the report.

The ensuing fire scorched 122 square miles, destroyed nearly 400 structures, injured four people and forced the evacuation of about 190,000 people in Sonoma County over a 13-day period.

A PG&E spokeswoman disputed parts of the report to the Press Democrat, saying that the unit served by the transmission tower was in “cold standby,” meaning it could eventually be used again.

The spokesperson told the local newspaper that despite their disagreements, it has settled with the commission to allow “all parties to move forward with the fire and permit us to focus on compensating victims and making our energy system safer.”

Fire burns along a power pole as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, tears through central Doyle, Calif., on Saturday, July 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A separate criminal case is still pending in Sonoma County Superior Court, where the company is charged with five felonies and 28 misdemeanor counts related to the fire.

PG&E also settled with Sonoma County and multiple cities last May, agreeing to pay $31 million in damages.

PG&E did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to approve the settlement with PG&E over the Kinkade fire at its Dec. 2 meeting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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