CALIFORNIA—On Monday, March 23, PG&E agreed to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and unlawfully starting the Camp Fire. The utility company’s faulty equipment was stated as the cause of fire in 2018— marked California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire.
The wildfire started November 8, 2018 in Butte County and took 17 days to contain. The blaze tore through over 150,000 acres of land including the towns of Magalia, Concow, and Paradise.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and California Public Utilities Commission started an investigation into the cause. It was determined that a steel hook holding a power line failed causing the fire. It was not until May 2019, where investigators announced PG&E was responsible.
As part of the plea agreement, PG&E will pay the maximum fine of $3.5 million in addition to $500,000 to the Butte County District Attorney’s Office for the reimbursement of costs to investigate.
It is unclear how the guilty plea will affect the five year probation and felony conviction PG&E received in 2016 for the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in 2010.
The company agreed additionally to pay a total of $13.5 billion to settle all claims resulting from the Camp Fire and other wildfires—including the Tubbs Fire and Ghost Ship fire—it caused.
With potential liabilities of $30 billion following the Camp Fire, PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019. They have until June 30, 2020 to exit bankruptcy in order to participate in the fund that assists utilities in paying for future wildfire claims.
Bill Johnson, PG&E CEO and president said in a statement, “Our equipment started the fire. Those are the facts, and with this plea agreement we accept responsibility for our role in the fire.” After confessing regret for the “devastation [and] loss of life that occurred” Johnson says, “our hope is that this plea agreement, along with our rebuilding efforts, will help the community move forward from this tragic incident.”
The plea agreement awaits approval from the state and bankruptcy court.