Shasta County D.A. considers PG&E ‘criminally liable’ for deadly Zogg fire; no charges filed yet
Shasta County’s top prosecutor has decided Pacific Gas & Electric is “criminally liable” for its role in sparking the Zogg fire, which killed four people, destroyed more than 200 homes and burned 56,000 acres last year.
Dist. Atty. Stephanie Bridgett, whose office has been scrutinizing PG&E’s role in the devastating blaze, said Thursday her office has not decided the “nature or the grade” of whatever charges may be brought against the beleaguered utility. Bridgett said she would make a decision before the anniversary of the Zogg fire, which erupted in late September 2020.
The announcement that a district attorney considered PG&E criminally liable in a deadly blaze — a statement that carries serious implications — was announced in a brief Facebook post and left many questions unanswered, chief among them what charges the utility might face. Sonoma County prosecutors brought felony and misdemeanor charges against PG&E for its role in a 2019 fire that burned a similarly broad swath of land but did not kill anyone.
A spokeswoman for the Shasta County district attorney’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
In a statement, a PG&E spokesperson said the utility had already resolved civil claims with Shasta County and was continuing to negotiate settlements with individual victims of the Zogg fire “in an effort to make it right.”
“We do not, however, agree with the district attorney’s conclusion that criminal charges are warranted given the facts of this case,” the company spokesperson said.
PG&E has previously said it cooperated fully with an investigation by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that found the Zogg fire was sparked by a pine tree falling on PG&E power lines north of Igo in Shasta County.
The troubled utility was driven into bankruptcy after incurring massive liabilities from wildfires that swept across Northern California in 2017 and 2018. It reorganized last year with the blessing of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Sonoma County Dist. Atty. Jill Ravitch charged PG&E in April with five felony and 28 misdemeanor counts over its role in the Kincade fire, which badly injured six firefighters in 2019. Investigators determined that a PG&E line sparked the blaze, which raced across 77,000 acres, burned 374 buildings and prompted what authorities called the largest evacuation in state history.
PG&E accepted the finding that its line ignited the Kincade fire but has denied that it committed any crime.
Last year, PG&E’s then-chief executive, Bill Johnson, entered a guilty plea on behalf of the utility to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter, admitting criminal liability in the Camp fire, which killed 84 people and destroyed more than 18,000 buildings in Paradise.
PG&E admitted its poorly maintained equipment sparked the fire and agreed to pay a $3.5-million fine and an additional $500,000 penalty to the Butte County district attorney’s office to recoup the costs of investigating the blaze. Under a plea agreement, no executives at the utility were personally punished.
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