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Fires in October killed 18 people and burned more than 174,000 acres

Reposted from the Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/12-northern-california-fires-caused-by-pg-e-equipment-investigators-say-1528508287

By Maria Armental | June 8, 2018 9:38 p.m. ET

Twelve Northern California fires that killed 18 people and burned through more than 174,000 acres in October were caused by power lines or other equipment owned by PG&E Corp. , according to fire investigators.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection referred eight of the 12 fires to local district attorneys for possible legal action.

Investigations continue into the causes of the other fires, including the Tubbs Fire, the deadliest of the fires that killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,000 structures.

In all, more than 170 fires burned through some 245,000 acres last year, killing more than 40 people and causing billions of dollars in damages.

In May, state fire investigators reached similar conclusions on four of the smaller fires and referred three of those fires for legal review.

PG&E, whose Pacific Gas & Electric Co. unit is California’s largest investor-owned utility, on Friday said, “We continue to believe our overall programs met our state’s high standards.”

The utility company, which faces multiple lawsuits and has suspended dividend payouts over the potential liabilities associated with the 2017 Northern California wildfires, has asked the state for an extension to file its general-rate case, which triggers a multiyear review to set rates for each utility.

In the extension request, Robert Kenney, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s vice president of regulatory affairs, cited legislative work that could “fundamentally change” the company’s rate case as well as “tremendous uncertainty regarding the company’s potential liabilities under the state’s inverse condemnation policy.”

California courts have in some cases applied inverse condemnation to events caused by utility equipment. This means that companies can be held financially liable even if the utility has followed all inspection and safety rules.

PG&E spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year in fire prevention, including pruning or removing trees.

For the past four years, the utility company has also increased foot and aerial patrols along power lines in high fire-risk areas and added daily aerial patrols during wildfire season to help spot blazes.

Write to Maria Armental at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Michael S. Feinberg, APLC
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