Just prior to the busiest part of this year's fire season, Cal Fire reported the conclusion of an investigation that points the finger at PG&E equipment for igniting last year's Kincade Fire in Sonoma County. Now, before a final report on the fire has even been finalized by the state, eight agencies in the county including four city governments have sued PG&E in an effort to recoup damages for impacts on infrastructure and public property.
Cal Fire forwarded its findings to the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office in July, suggesting that a transmission line on a PG&E tower northeast of Geyserville was to blame for the fire's ignition on October 23, 2019. The ignition point had been determined early on to be in the vicinity of a transmission tower that had a live line on it — despite the fact that PG&E had shut power off all over the county that day in order to prevent fire-causing sparks during high winds. The company admitted within about 24 hours of the beginning of the fire that a high-voltage line in the area had malfunctioned around the time of ignition.
Now, as the Chronicle reports, Sonoma County, the county water agency, open space district, community development commission, and the cities of Santa Rosa, Windsor, Cloverdale, and Healdsburg are filing suit seeking compensation from PG&E for damages incurred during the blaze, which burned 78,000 acres and prompted the evacuation of some 200,000 residents last October and November.
PG&E continues to hedge and suggest it still has not seen the evidence the state has about the cause of the fire. And a spokesperson tells the Chronicle, "All issues that were identified on the tower in question were resolved prior to the Kincade Fire with the exception of one, which related to the painting of the tower."
Kincade Fire victims will likely be next in filing suit, once the final investigative report is complete. PG&E filed bankruptcy in January 2019 and spent the ensuing eighteen months reaching settlements with victims of three previous fires — including the devastating Tubbs Fire that impacted areas of Sonoma County in October 2017 adjacent to the footprint of the Kincade Fire and destroyed thousands of homes.
70,000 fire victims agreed to a $13.5 billion settlement from PG&E earlier this year, to be paid half in cash and half in stock, which was on top of settlements that PG&E reached with insurers and public agencies. The Kincade Fire was not considered part of those settlements.
Top photo: The Kincade Fire burns a structure on October 27, 2019 in Santa Rosa, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)