California’s PG&E admits responsibility for 84 deaths in massive wildfire
CEO Bill Johnson entered guilty pleas on behalf of the company in Butte County Superior Court, admitting that PG&E’s crumbling electrical grid sparked what was dubbed the Camp Fire.
“Our equipment started that fire,” said Johnson, apologizing directly to the victims’ families. “PG&E will never forget the Camp Fire and all that it took away from the region.”
The blaze burned for 17 days in November 2018, scorching more than 150,000 acres, leveling much of the scenic town of Paradise and killing 85 people.
Prosecutors brought 84 charges of involuntary manslaughter against PG&E because they weren’t confident they could prove the company’s culpability in one of the deaths.
In a dramatic court hearing, Judge Michael Deems read the name of each victim aloud, and photos of the deceased were displayed on a screen as Johnson pleaded guilty.
Johnson also pleaded guilty to a single felony count of unlawfully starting a fire.
Deems will formally hand down his sentence on Thursday or Friday.
While jail time isn’t on the table, PG&E has agreed to pay the maximum $3.5 million fine for its crimes, plus another $500,000 to defray costs of the investigation.
The nation’s largest utility company won’t, however, be placed on criminal probation — which it’s already under for a 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., which killed eight people.
Johnson will resign as CEO on June 30 — the same day by which a judge will rule on whether to accept or reject PG&E’s plan to get out of bankruptcy.
The company declared bankruptcy last year as part of a plan to pay $25.5 billion in settlements for the Camp Fire and other blazes that torched the state in 2017.
Of that sum, $13.5 billion has been earmarked for the families of victims.
Under the terms of PG&E’s deal with Golden State power regulators, 11 of the company’s 14 board members will be replaced.
Meanwhile, PG&E has vowed to take steps to prevent future wildfires, including pruning trees near its power lines and replacing aging equipment before a deadly malfunction.
With Post wires