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PG&E agrees to pay $1 billion for deadly wildfires

Deal would settle stakes with cities and counties affected by fires but still leave the utility open to private suits

Town Of Paradise Wiped Out By The Camp Wildfire Continues Long Struggle To Rebuild
The town of Paradise, three months after the Camp Fire.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the bankrupt power utility based in San Francisco whom fire investigators faulted for the deadly 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, announced Wednesday that it will pay $1 billion in fire-related settlements to more than a dozen public bodies as part of its ongoing bankruptcy proceedings.

According to a press release, the company has reached a deal with “18 local public entities (cities, counties, districts and public agencies) impacted by the 2015 Butte Fire, 2017 Northern California wildfires, and 2018 Camp Fire.”

The Camp Fire, which started November 8 of 2018, killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 20,000 buildings in Butte County, making it the deadliest and most destructive wildfire ever recorded in California.

PG&E equipment ignited the fire near the town of Pulga, which quickly spread and merged with another nearby blaze to create a disaster that overwhelmed nearby communities.

The deal announced Wednesday includes a $252 million payment to Butte County and another $270 million specifically to the town of Paradise, where the worst of the fire damage happened.

The 2015 Butte Fire burned nearly 71,000 acres and killed two. Cal Fire investigators faulted a PG&E power line for starting the blaze. During the Northern California wildfire outbreak of 2017 PG&E says that its equipment and services started at least 18 fires in the state, some of which this settlement addresses.

A judge overseeing PG&E’s ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy will have to approve the deal before it’s finalized. PG&E still faces multiple lawsuits from private residents and groups over its fire liability. Further investigation may potentially result in criminal charges as well.

PG&E CEO Bill Johnson called the arrangement “an important first step” Wednesday and said that the company hopes to “achieve mutual acceptable resolutions” with other complaints.