The Slatest

PG&E Power Lines Found to Have Caused California’s Historically Destructive Wildfires

An aerial view of homes destroyed by the Camp Fire.
A Feb. 11 aerial view of homes destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California fire investigators announced Wednesday that the power utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company was responsible for the historic Northern California wildfire that ravaged the state in November. Investigators fingered electrical transmission lines owned and operated by PG&E as the cause of the Camp Fire, as last year’s wildfire is known, which went on to be the deadliest and most destructive blaze in California history. By the time it was extinguished, the Camp Fire had killed 85 people, burned more than 150,000 acres, and wiped out nearly 19,000 homes in Butte County.

PG&E’s culpability doesn’t come as much of shock at this point; the company acknowledged in February its machinery probably caused the blaze. The February admission came in an earnings report where the privately held company was disclosing potential liabilities surrounding the fire to investors. “Utility officials said they set aside $10.5 billion to cover claims from the Camp Fire,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports. “Such a bill would raise the company’s total liability from wildfires in 2017 and 2018, which includes the Wine Country burns, to more than $30 billion.”

In January, the company filed for bankruptcy, but is still considered the most likely source of compensation for victims of the Camp Fire. “In bankruptcy, the claims of wildfire victims will compete with the claims of bondholders and other PG&E creditors,” the New York Times reports. “People who lost their homes to the Camp Fire will probably not know how much the company will pay them for many months and possibly even years.” The investigation’s findings should move the legal process along, though, and could aid victims in the legal fight to get compensation. The findings will also factor into a criminal investigation into the fires already underway by the Butte County district attorney and the California attorney general.