‘Overwhelming’ evidence against PG&E in deadly fire, says lawyer suing

The site near Pulga is now being protected as investigators continue their probe. The Camp Fire was 35 percent contained early Wednesday, according to Cal Fire.

Danko also represents a group of plaintiffs suing PG&E over the 2017 wine country fires, a group of Northern California blazes. Cal Fire has pinned the blame on PG&E in at least 16 wildfires in last year’s fire siege, including some blazes with fatalities.

According to Danko, other California utilities do a better job of “mitigating the risk. For example, in Southern California when there are windy conditions, the utilities as a matter of routine for some time have shut off the power so that if the lines come down it won’t spark a fire. That’s something that PG&E never did until after the wine country fires.”

The attorney claims PG&E sent out emails indicating it would shut off power before the Camp Fire but didn’t do it. “Their meteorologists were watching the conditions, and then they decided not to,” he said. “They decided to leave the power on.”

PG&E’s Tostado said, “The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our highest priority. Right now, our primary focus is on the communities, supporting first responders and getting our crews positioned and ready to respond when we get access, so that we can safely restore gas and electricity to our customers.”

The electrical outage that PG&E experienced in Butte County was to a 115kV transmission line and the damage observed near the fire was to a 115kV transmission line. The utility spokesperson said “115kV transmission lines are not currently part of the Public Safety Power Shutoff program due to a variety of safety and regulatory factors.”

Still, Danko alleges that PG&E has “nefarious” reasons for keeping the power on.

“PG&E does not want to shut off power for the reason that management bonuses are tied not to safety, but rather the lack of customer complaints,” Danko said. He said when the power is shut off to customers they complain so management is therefore hesitant to flip the power off.

Danko said he plans to subpoena PG&E’s witnesses and their documents to get even more information on the incident.

Earlier this year, PG&E and its parent renewed liability insurance coverage for wildfire events for approximately $1.4 billion, covering the period from Aug. 1, 2018, through July 31, 2019.

The state legislature already has given PG&E some relief that allows them in the event of a wildfire to sell bonds to essentially pay for damages. That relief, known as state Senate Bill 901, was approved by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 21 and followed the catastrophic wine country fires last year.

“If they file bankruptcy, so be it,” said Danko. “That means that ultimately their equipment is essentially auctioned off. Perhaps someone more responsible will end up operating the electric and gas facilities.”

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