Pacific Gas and Electric says it’s “probable” that its equipment caused the Camp Fire in Northern California, the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history.
California has not finished its investigation into PG&E’s culpability in last November’s fire that killed at least 85 people, destroyed about 14,000 structures, displacing tens of thousands of people and destroying the town of Paradise. However, the state’s largest utility, which filed for bankruptcy last month, said Thursday it expects the investigation will find that its damaged infrastructure sparked the fire.
The company faces billions of dollars in possible liabilities and nearly two dozen lawsuits from victims of the Camp Fire, including allegations of poor equipment maintenance. One lawsuit claims that the utility prioritized advertising spending over fire and public safety.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January because of potential legal liabilities from two years of devastating wildfires in the state, including the Camp Fire. The company, which has seen its stock prices plunge since the Nov. 8 wildfire in Butte County, says it plans to include a $10.5 billion pre-tax charge related to Camp Fire claims in its fourth-quarter earnings.
In its statement Thursday, the utility pointed to damage on a tower near where the Camp Fire broke out, which it had previously reported to state regulators, as the fire’s likely origin.
The fire started around 6:30 a.m. near the tower, which is on the Caribou-Palermo transmission line, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
PG&E also said in the statement that its Big Bend circuit experienced an outage at 6:45 a.m. Employees “observed damage to the pole and equipment and downed wires” at a location that Cal Fire has identified as another potential ignition point, according to the company. But the company said it has not determined whether that site was a “probable” source of the fire.
California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a court filing in December that PG&E could face criminal charges — including failing to keep power lines clear of trees or vegetation, recklessly starting a forest fire and murder — if the state finds the utility liable in any of the recent deadly wildfires, The Los Angeles Times reported.
A previous investigation by the state found that PG&E was not responsible for the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Sonoma county that killed 22 people.