A judge determined on Wednesday that Pacific Gas & Electric will go on trial for manslaughter for its part in a wildfire in Northern California in 2020 that claimed four lives.
After a preliminary hearing, the judge in Shasta County determined that there was sufficient proof to hold the largest utility in the country accountable for 11 felonies and misdemeanors, including involuntary homicide and recklessly setting a fire.
Twenty further charges were dropped.
The nation’s largest power provider, which entered a not-guilty plea to the charges in June, was due to be charged on February 15 and was due to be arraigned that day.
South of the Oregon border, a county covered in forests was decimated by the Zogg Fire, which started in September 2020. Prior to being brought under control, the fire consumed 88 square miles (228 square kilometers) of land and more than 200 dwellings.
An 8-year-old girl and her mother were among the four fatalities; they were engulfed in the flames as they attempted to flee their home in a car.
According to state fire officials, a pine tree that struck a PG&E distribution line caused the fire to start. Last year, the California Public Utilities Commission suggested fining PG&E more than $155 million for failing to remove the tree, which was one of two that had been designated for removal.
While the corporation itself could receive punishment and be required to take corrective action, company officials could not risk criminal penalties.
In a statement, PG&E claimed that while it admits that its equipment caused the fire and that the deaths were regrettable, “we feel PG&E did not conduct any crimes.”
The utility stated, “We continue our work to make it safe and make it right, both via our work to make our system safer every day and through our work to resolve claims from prior fires.”
The number of PG&E consumers in Northern and Central California is projected to be 16 million. Due to its deteriorating electrical grid, the corporation has been accused of causing some of California’s biggest wildfires.
In total, more than 30 wildfires that destroyed more than 23,000 homes and businesses and claimed the lives of over 100 individuals since 2017 have been attributed to PG&E.
In order to resolve a lawsuit concerning the 2017 and 2018 California wildfires, notably the 2018 Camp Fire, which claimed 85 lives and mostly destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County, former executives, and directors agreed to pay $117 million last year.
The case was a result of PG&E’s $13.5 billion settlement with wildfire victims, which was made during the utility’s protracted bankruptcy from January 2019 to June 2020.
For starting the Camp Fire, PG&E admitted guilt on 84 felony charges of involuntary murder and was fined the highest amount possible, $4 million.
Also in 2017, PG&E reached a settlement with prosecutors in six counties affected by the 2019 Kincade Fire and the 2021 Dixie Fire in which it agreed to pay more than $55 million to avoid criminal prosecution.
More than 1,300 homes and other buildings were destroyed by the Dixie Fire. West of a dam in the Sierra Nevada, a tree fell on some electrical distribution cables, sparking the fire.