Natural Disasters

Federal judge orders utility company to explain any role it had in causing California wildfires

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California National Guard photo.

A federal judge has ordered Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to reveal what role, if any, it had in causing the Camp Fire that destroyed the California town of Paradise and killed at least 88 people.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued the order on Tuesday in connection with his oversight of the utility company’s probation for a fatal 2010 fire caused by a natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California, report the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee.

Alsup said he wanted PG&E to explain any role it had in causing the Camp Fire, as well as all other wildfires in California since the company was sentenced in January 2017 in the pipeline case. Jurors had found that the company obstructed investigators and violated public safety regulations in connection with pipeline maintenance. The utility was fined $3 million and placed on probation; a probation condition included a ban on committing any further crimes.

Alsup asked what steps a court-appointed monitor in the pipeline case had taken to monitor and improve PG&E’s safety and reporting. He also asked the company to tell him what aspects of the pipeline judgment “might be implicated by any inaccurate, slow or failed reporting of information about any wildfire by PG&E.”

Several lawsuits have been filed against PG&E in connection with the Camp Fire. An earlier suit alleges the fire began when a high-voltage transmission line failed and ignited a vegetation fire. The suit says PG&E had a duty to maintain its aging infrastructure and could have satisfied its obligations by putting electrical equipment underground in wildfire-prone areas, increasing inspections, and developing protocols to shut down electrical operations in emergency situations.

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