At a Glance
- The Zogg Fire killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes.
- It began when a pine tree fell on a PG&E power line.
California’s largest utility has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and other crimes in the deaths of four people in a Northern California wildfire last year.
Prosecutors announced Friday they had filed a 31-count complaint alleging Pacific Gas and Electric Co. had committed 11 felonies and 20 misdemeanors in connection with the Zogg Fire and other wildfires, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Investigators had determined earlier that the Zogg Fire started when a tree fell on a PG&E power line.
Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said Friday that PG&E should have removed the pine tree.
Because the utility didn't, it failed to perform its legal duties and its “failure was reckless and criminally negligent, and it resulted in the death of four people," she said.
In a statement and video response to the charges, PG&E CEO Patti Poppe said, "We’ve accepted CAL FIRE’s determination, reached earlier this year, that a tree contacted our electric line and started the Zogg Fire. We accept that conclusion. But we did not commit a crime."
She said two arborists walked the line and determined the tree in question could stay.
"This was a tragedy, four people died. And my co-workers are working so hard to prevent fires and the catastrophic losses that come with them. They have dedicated their careers to it, criminalizing their judgment is not right. Failing to prevent this fire is not a crime."
Friday's charges are the latest legal action against PG&E, which pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp Fire that nearly destroyed the town of Paradise, California.
The company filed for bankruptcy in 2019 and agreed to pay more than $25 billion in damages caused by the Camp Fire and other blazes.
If PG&E is convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the latest case, the punishment would be a fine for each person killed, according to the Associated Press.
A corporation “can’t go to jail, so we’re talking fines, fees, the ability for the court to order remedial and corrective measures,” Bridgett said.
“One of our primary functions here is to hold them responsible and let the surviving families know that their loved one did not die in vain,” she added.
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