Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation’s largest utility provider, agreed to pay more than $55 million to avoid criminal prosecution for two large wildfires started by its ageing power lines in northern California. PG&E does not admit wrongdoing in the two settlements reached with prosecutors for last year’s Dixie fire, one of the biggest wildfires in California’s history, and the 2019 Kincade fire in Sonoma County. The deals expedite damage payments to the hundreds of people whose homes were destroyed, The Guardian reports. PG&E will also submit to five years of oversight by an independent monitor similar to the supervision it faced during five years of criminal probation after it was convicted for misconduct that contributed to its natural gas explosion that killed eight people in 2010.
The embattled utility company has been blamed for more than 30 wildfires since 2017 that wiped out more than 23,000 houses and businesses and killed more than 100 people. It previously reached settlements with wildfire victims of more than $25.5 billion. The Dixie fire burned nearly 1 million acres in Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta and Tehama counties and destroyed more than 1,300 houses and other buildings. The blaze was caused by a tree hitting electrical distribution lines west of a dam in the Sierra Nevada, where the fire began in July 2021, according to investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The settlement for the Dixie fire was made by district attorneys in Plumas, Lassen, Tehama, Shasta and Butte counties, who had not yet filed charges.