California utility company PG&E faces criminal charges over 2019 Kincade Fire
PG&E was charged with 5 felonies and 28 misdemeanors
Utility company Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is facing 33 criminal charges over the 2019 Kincade Fire in California.
In a statement Tuesday, PG&E acknowledged that its equipment was responsible for sparking the blaze which destroyed 374 buildings and caused nearly 100,000 people to flee as it burned through 120 square miles in October 2019.
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"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," the company said.
While it accepts the findings, the nation’s largest utility company still denied committing "any crime" and claimed that it never "had access to the agency's report or the evidence it gathered."
PG&E's response came just after California prosecutor Jill Ravitch filed five felonies and 28 misdemeanors against the company for "recklessly" causing the fire that started on Oct. 23, 2019, according to court documents.
Specifically, the complaint accuses the company of destroying inhabited structures and emitting air contaminants “with reckless disregard for the risk of great bodily injury” from toxic wildfire smoke and related particulate matter and ash, thereby endangering public health.
They allege that the utility failed to maintain facilities, including transmission lines, among the numerous related misdemeanor charges.
Ravitch said she and other investigators went to the fire’s ignition site as soon as it was safe, and since then have been working with state and independent experts "to determine the cause of and responsibility" for the fire.
MILLIONS LOSE POWER AS FIRES RIP THROUGH CALIFORNIA
Ravitch said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported to her office in July that the fire was sparked when a cable on a transmission tower broke in high winds and caused an electrical arc when it touched the tower. That caused molten material to drop into the dry vegetation below and ignited a fire that took 15 days to contain, she said.
The fire seriously injured six firefighters including a member of an inmate fire crew and at least two out-of-state contractors.
"I believe this criminal complaint reflects our findings," Ravitch said in a statement Tuesday.
This comes as the latest blow for the utility company which serves more than 16 million people across much of Northern California.
PG&E’s alleged criminal negligence in the Sonoma County wildfire occurred while the company was mired in a bankruptcy triggered by a series of deadly infernos that were ignited by the utility’s crumbling equipment during 2017 and 2018.
The company said Tuesday that it is "committed to making it right for all those impacted and working to further reduce wildfire risk on our system."
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Its chief executive, Patti Poppe, who took over in January, added that she has been working to "ensure" that the company cares for anyone who has been harmed and is working to "make it safe again in California."
"We will work around the clock until that is true for all people we are privileged to serve," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.