The Sonoma County district attorney has charged PG&E with 33 criminal counts — including five felonies — in light of findings that their transmission lines did cause the Kincade Fire.
The names of all of the wildfires of the last few years kind of blend together, so first a reminder that the 2019 Kincade Fire had been Sonoma County’s largest-ever wildfire prior to the LNU Lightning Complex fires last year. And about two days into the Kincade fire, we received the bombshell revelation that a PG&E transmission tower "malfunctioned” at the very spot where the blaze began, making it pretty likely that PG&E equipment caused the fire. A Cal Fire investigation completed July found that oh yes, PG&E equipment caused the fire.
And so the lawsuits have started, notably last November when Sonoma County, five cities, and several government agencies filed a collective lawsuit seeking compensation for damages from the bankrupt PG&E. But PG&E may be in a far more serious pickle with criminal charges, as the Chronicle reports that the Sonoma County district attorney has filed 33 criminal charges against the utility, including five felonies, for causing the blaze that burned nearly 80,000 acres and destroyed about 175 homes.
You can read all 33 charges in the Superior Court lawsuit filing, which states that PG&E “unlawfully and recklessly set fire to and burn and cause to be burned a structure, forest land, and personal property and did cause great bodily injury to firefighter victims.” Six firefighters were seriously injured fighting the fire.
PG&E responded in a statement to KPIX. “In the spirit of working to do what’s right for the victims, we will accept CAL FIRE’s finding that a PG&E transmission line caused the fire, even though we have not had access to the agency’s report or the evidence it gathered,” said the company’s CEO Patti Poppe. “However, we do not believe there was any crime here. We remain committed to making it right for all those impacted and working to further reduce wildfire risk on our system.”
This company has been hit with criminal charges before, and it's not like any of the white-collar criminals involved go to jail. They’re currently on a five-year probation for felony crimes in the 2020 San Bruno blast, and last year pled guilty to 84 felony counts on involuntary manslaughter.
But this is America. You kill one person, you’re probably going to jail. You kill 84 people in a single day, you’re probably the Pacific Gas & Electric Company.
The criminal trial is set to be begin on a day known for a different kind of blazing, April 20, 2021.
Image: GEYSERVILLE, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 24: Homes continue to burn after the Kincade Fire moved through the area on October 24, 2019 in Geyserville, California. Fueled by high winds, the Kincade Fire has burned over 10,000 acres in a matter of hours and has prompted evacuations in the Geyserville area. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)