Pacific Gas & Electric has once again been criminally charged in the deaths of four people during the Zogg Fire in Shasta County last year. Investigators found that the cause of the fire, which began on September 27, 2020 and ultimately burned 56,338 acres, was a fallen tree hitting aging PG&E equipment.
Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett announced back in July that her office would be pursuing criminal charges against the utility, and Friday those charges were filed — a total of 31 charges, including 11 felonies, some involuntary manslaughter charges connected with the deaths of four people, including an eight-year-old girl.
"They failed to perform their legal duties,” Bridgett said of PG&E in a Friday press conference. “Their failure was reckless, it was criminally negligent and it resulted in the death of four people."
The Associated Press published a statement in response to the charges from PG&E CEO Patti Pope, which signals what the utility's main defense will be in this case.
"We are all devastated by the effects of wildfire here in California. My heart aches," Pope said. "I have seen firsthand how devastating it is and have spoken with many of those most harmed."
But, she contends, PG&E can't be held criminally to blame for the forces that bring down trees. And "the tree that started the [Zogg] fire is one of over 8 million trees within striking distance to our lines," Pope said.
Pope adds that, prior to the fire, "Two trained arborists walked this line and independent of one another determined the tree in question could stay. We trimmed or removed over 5,000 trees on this very circuit alone... There will be debates about the facts around the tree that started the Zogg Fire. Professional debate in the service of doing what is right and continuously improving."
The Zogg Fire was sparked during a time of widespread fire activity in the fall of 2020, and about six weeks after three major lightning complex fires began burning across huge swaths of the Bay Area. The fire would ultimately burn more than 200 structures in Shasta and Tehama counties.
As the Chronicle notes, PG&E previously pled guilty guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise nearly three years ago. And criminal charges have also been filed against the company by Sonoma County in connection with the 2019 Kincade Fire, and that case is still pending.
Photo: Matthew Henry