Two settlements for two different wildfires that impacted six different counties will halt several separate criminal investigations, as PG&E will pay $55 million to settle criminal allegations in the Dixie and Kincade fires.
It’s hard to keep track of each year's different California wildfires, and utility giant PG&E’s various roles in allegedly causing them, so here’s a quick primer for today: the 2021 Dixie Fire, reportedly the most expensive firefight in U.S. history, is believed to have been ignited when a tree hit a PG&E transmission line. The 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County has produced 33 criminal charges against PG&E, and apparently started when a PG&E transmission tower “malfunctioned” and was not shut off in a timely fashion.
We bring up these fires today, and their alleged causes, because they are back in the news. The Chronicle reports that PG&E has reached a $55 million settlement agreement over the fires, which is actually two different settlement agreements. Both have PG&E admitting no wrongdoing, but one halts the 33 criminal charges from Sonoma County in the Kincade Fire, the other, per the Chronicle, "halts criminal inquiries by prosecutors in Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta and Tehama counties into PG&E’s operations where a tree fell onto powerlines” and where “the company allowed the line to stay energized for nearly 10 hours after detecting a problem.”
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who’d been pursuing the 33 criminal charges, said in a statement to KPIX that “We have limited tools and criminal law to deal with corporations and what we were able to do here was to get a five-year agreement that they will be overseen, that there will be an independent monitor, and that they will have to meet certain benchmarks.”
For their part, PG&E’s CEO Patti Poppe said in a statement that “We respect the leadership of the local DAs, welcome the new level of transparency and accountability afforded by these agreements, and look forward to working together with them for the benefit of the communities we collectively serve.”
In earlier PG&E settlements with insurance companies and individual homeowners, some victims complain that the money still has not come through. This particular settlement requires that victims be paid settlement money within 75 days of their claim, plus creates an oversight board that monitors PG&E’s fire prevention benchmarks in the six relevant counties named above. According to the Chronicle, the settlement money will also “give millions of dollars to local health clinics, educational programs and nonprofits, and to boost [PG&E’s] workforce in those counties.”
Image: First views of Kincade Fire at night shortly after it started to ravage northeastern Sonoma County. (Getty Images)