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PG&E sued over deadly Camp Fire

Suit by Paradise homeowners calls utility company’s safety record “an abomination”

Investigators Blame California Utility PG&E For 2017 Wine Country Fires Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Residents in the city of Paradise filed suit against PG&E in San Francisco Superior Court on Tuesday, alleging that the utility company’s negligence and faulty equipment generated the deadly Camp Fire, which has burned over 130,000 acres in Butte County, destroyed thousands of homes, and killed dozens of people.

The suit, “Quammen Et Al vs. PGE,” lists a total of 25 plaintiffs, all described as “an owner and/or occupants of real property damaged by the Camp Fire.”

Attorneys with Millbrae-based Corey, Luzaich, de Ghetaldi, and Riddle excoriate PG&E’s safety record, claiming that “the Camp Fire started when a high-voltage transmission line failed, igniting vegetation.” The lawsuit hopes to place potentially expensive legal liability for the deadliest and most destructive California fire on the utility company.

Note that the cause of the Camp Fire (and potential legal ramifications of it) have not yet been determined. However, Cal Fire did conclude that PG&E equipment sparked similarly destructive 2017 fires.

KQED reports that PG&E recorded “an incident early Thursday on a major electrical transmission line at a remote site in Butte County just minutes before the reported start of the Camp Fire.”

On top of all of that, hours before the fire spread, PG&E announced via a November 8 press release that it had decided to cancel a previously proposed service suspension to some Northern California households as an anti-fire measure:

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has determined that it will not proceed with plans today for a Public Safety Power Shutoff in portions of eight Northern California counties, as weather conditions did not warrant this safety measure.

On Tuesday, PG&E began notifying approximately 70,000 customers in portions of Northern California of the potential that the company would turn off power for safety given forecasts of extreme fire danger conditions. PG&E will now notify customers [...] that the potential Public Safety Power Shutoff has been canceled.

That looks pretty bad.

Nevertheless, the allegations put forth in the litigation are not yet proven; a company the size of PG&E is the target of numerous lawsuits every year.

In response to the suit, PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado told Curbed SF, “It’s important to remember that the cause has yet to be determined” and that “we are aware of lawsuits regarding the Camp Fire.” She emphasized the utility company’s efforts to restore service rather than comment further on the complaint.

Rapidly-Spreading Wildfire In California’s Butte County Prompts Evacuations Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The plaintiffs allege that the utility company has a damning record of maintenance oversights that regularly creates dangerous conditions for customers:

PG&E has a duty to manage, maintain, repair, and/or replace its aging infrastructure to protect public safety. These objectives could and should have been accomplished in a number of ways. [...] PG&E knew or should have known that a breach of those standards and duties constituted negligence and would expose members of the general public to risk of death, injury, and damage to their property. PG&E’s safety record is an abomination.

The suit cites no fewer than 18 separate fires and explosions caused by PG&E infrastructure since 1991, including the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas explosion that killed eight.

The recent NorCal fires have sparked other lawsuits—the Sacramento Bee reported on a Butte County appraiser who is planning similar action.

PG&E’s stock has plummeted in recent days, dropping from nearly $49 on the New York Stock Exchange on November 8, the morning the fire began, to just over $25 by Wednesday afternoon.