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PG&E sued over Camp Fire yet again

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Butte County residents allege downed wires sparked deadly blaze

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

Pacific Gas and Electric Company [PG&E] is once again feeling heat for the Butte County Camp Fire—the deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record in California, which killed at least 88 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes—as more former homeowners filed a lawsuit against the utility Thursday, alleging responsibility for the disaster.

Southern California-based Frantz Law Group, who specialize in wildfire suits, and several other firms filed suit charging PG&E with negligence.

[Correction: This story previously misidentified the names of one of the plaintiffs. The complaint lists 20 plaintiffs, including Rebecca Bausch, Amanda McClarren, George Gold, and CRA Paradise LLC.]

According to the complaint:

As with many of the most disastrous wildfires in California over the past twenty (20) years, the Camp Fire’s ignition originated at one of many locations where PG&E’s aged, poorly programed, and poorly maintained high voltage wires.

[...] Consistent with prior wildfires where PG&E has been found responsible, the corporation has once again allowed its fire-prevention policies to be controlled byshareholder profits rather than the safety of the community.

In an emailed statement, Frantz Law Group cited some of PG&E’s own public statements and reports on and around November 8, the day the fire began:

Preliminary investigations have discovered that PG&E was aware of issues with power lines in the vicinity days before the Camp/Paradise Fire started, and despite advising residents in Butte County that power may be shut off on November 8 and 9 due to risk of wildfire.

PG&E did not turn off the power. On November 8, 2018 at 6:15 a.m., minutes before the Camp/Paradise Fire started, PG&E submitted an electrical incident report to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), advising that it had experienced an outage on a transmission line near the Camp/Paradise Fire origin.

The suit is similar to one filed two weeks ago by a different set of onetime homeowners in burn areas, citing many of the same incidents and allegations.

Both complaints lay out a plausible scenario by which PG&E’s equipment and policies could have been partly or entirely responsible for the fire.

As both suits point out, PG&E has been found liable for many deadly fire-related incidents in the past, including the 2017 Tubbs Fire that devastated Santa Rosa.

In fact, Cal Fire found PG&E at fault for a previous Butte County fire in 2015 that killed two people.

Paradise, California Continues Recovery Efforts From The Devastating Camp Fire Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

However, neither Cal Fire nor other investigators have yet determined the cause of the Camp Fire. Evidence implicating PG&E remains circumstantial.

Earlier this week, the federal judge overseeing the company’s criminal probation (related to a gas explosion in San Bruno that killed eight in 2010) scrutinized PG&E’s potential liability in the Camp Fire.

In response to previous suits, a spokesperson for PG&E told Curbed SF, “We are aware of lawsuits regarding the Camp Fire,” adding that “it’s important to remember that the cause has yet to be determined.”

Thursday morning, protesters briefly shut down a California Public Utilities Commission hearing for fear that the state may opt to bailout PG&E if lawsuits threaten the utility company’s solvency.

All of this bad news has done a number on PG&E’s stock price, which sat at nearly $48 the morning of the fire, but dropped below $18 one week later. It now hovers at around $27.