On November 9, 2018, PG&E released a statement about the Camp Fire, noting that around 6:15 a.m. on November 8, the utility “experienced an outage on the Caribou-Palermo 115 kV Transmission Line in Butte County.” PG&E also noted that there was damage to a transmission tower on the same line. That damage was near where the Camp Fire started.
Following an investigation into the devastating California wildfires that destroyed thousands of acres and killed dozens of people, Cal Fire alleges at least some of the blame for the fires belongs to Pacific Gas and Electric Co., (PG&E). According to Cal Fire, PG&E is responsible for at least 15 fires, including the Butte County, Nevada County, and Atlas and Redwood fires that started in October 2017.
In all, more than 170 fires destroyed over 245,000 acres of California, causing almost $10 billion in damages, and killing 44 people. In a report issued on June 8, 2018, Cal Fire said electric power and distribution lines, conductors, and power poles owned by PG&E were responsible for 12 Northern California wildfires, including the Mendocino, Humboldt, Butte, and Napa County fires. Just a few weeks before that, Cal Fire placed responsibility for three separate fires with the utility company.
Among the findings from Cal Fire’s report on the 12 fires:
The Redwood Fire, which started on October 8 and killed nine people, was started by a tree or tree part falling onto a PG&E power line;
The Sulphur Lake Fire, which started October 8 and destroyed 162 buildings, was started by a PG&E power pole failure, allowing power lines and equipment to contact the ground;
The 37 Fire, which started October 9, was linked to PG&E distribution lines;
The Atlas Fire, in Napa County, which started on October 8 and killed three people, was the result of a fire that started in two locations, both involving trees contacting power lines.
Cal Fire also found that the Sonoma and Napa Fires, which involved a series of fires that merged, were caused by multiple factors linked to PG&E, including falling trees contacting power lines and downed power lines. Three people died in those fires.
In May, Cal Fire alleged PG&E did not properly remove and cut back trees that were too close to power lines in Butte County and Nevada County, causing three fires. The McCourtney Fire started October 8, 2017, when a tree fell on a PG&E powerline. The resulting devastation affected 76 acres and 13 buildings. The Lobo Fire started on the same day as the McCourtney fire, when a tree touched PG&E’s power lines. That fire wound up damaging 47 buildings and more than 820 acres.
Meanwhile, in Butte County, the Honey Fire started on October 9, 2017, when a tree’s branch hit a PG&E powerline. No structures were damaged in that fire.
There are still fires under investigation that Cal Fire has not released findings for, including the Tubbs Fire, which killed 22 people.
PG&E Faces Possible Criminal Charges Linked to Some of the Fires
PG&E could face criminal charges for its alleged role in the wildfires, though Cal Fire did not find the utility company responsible for the La Porte Fire. Cal Fire did say that the results of its investigations were being turned over to local authorities “due to alleged violations of state law.”
“We’ve determined a cause,” said Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean. “Now we turn it over to local district attorneys who will take that information and proceed forward on the legal aspect.”
Under California state law, PG&E is responsible for compensating property owners whose property is damaged by the company’s equipment, even if no negligence is proven. They can also be liable for any costs related to firefighting, which in this case could be in the billions of dollars.
News of Cal Fire’s findings will likely increase the number of people who have filed lawsuits against PG&E. Lawsuits had already been filed linked to the California wildfires, with property owners alleging the company was negligent in its failure to maintain and protect its equipment. The company has responded to Cal Fire’s findings with a statement noting that it is committed to helping communities recover and rebuild.
According to The Mercury News almost 200 lawsuits have been filed against PG&E. Those lawsuits are coordinated through the San Francisco Superior Court and are in the early stages of discovery. PG&E tried to have lawsuits thrown out of court, but in May San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow rejected the company’s arguments and allowed the lawsuits to continue.
Senator Jerry Hill criticized PG&E, saying the company has a history of negligence and is trying to avoid its financial responsibilities.
“PG&E is trying to change the conversation and the narrative from negligence and their possible responsibility and call all of it the new normal,” Hill said. “There is nothing new about PG&E’s negligence. We saw it eight years ago in San Bruno.”
At Cutter Law, we understand all too well the devastation caused by the California wildfires. Lives have been forever altered by the catastrophic fires. We’re committed to ensuring everyone who was affected by the fires receives the compensation they deserve and those responsible are held accountable for their actions. Our attorneys have extensive experience investigating and handling insurance claims and lawsuits linked to fires. Contact us if you have any questions about your rights or if you want to discuss your options.