REDDING, Calif. — Pacific Gas & Electric will face a manslaughter trial for its role in a 2020 Northern California wildfire that killed four people, a judge ruled Wednesday.
The Shasta County judge ruled after a preliminary hearing that there was sufficient evidence for the nation’s largest utility to face trial on 11 counts of felonies and misdemeanors, including manslaughter and reckless start of a fire.
Twenty other charges were dismissed.
The company, which is the country’s largest utility, pleaded not guilty to the charges last June and an arraignment was scheduled for February 15.
The Zogg Fire that started in September 2020 tore through the forested county south of the Oregon border. The fire burned 88 square miles of land and destroyed more than 200 homes before it was brought under control.
Four people died, including an 8-year-old girl and her mother, who were engulfed in the flames as they tried to get away from their home.
State fire officials said the blaze started when a pine fell on a PG&E distribution line. The California Public Utilities Commission proposed last year to fine PG&E more than $155 million, saying it had failed to fell the tree, one of two that had been marked for removal.
Company executives do not face criminal charges, while the company could be fined and ordered to take corrective action.
In a statement, PG&E said the loss of life was tragic, and while it accepts the conclusion that its equipment caused the fire, “we believe PG&E committed no wrongdoing.”
“We continue our work to make it safe and right, both by resolving past fire claims and through our work to make our system safer every day,” the utility said.
PG&E has approximately 16 million customers in central and northern California. The utility has been blamed for starting some of California’s worst wildfires due to neglect of its aging power grid.
In all, PG&E has been blamed for more than 30 wildfires since 2017 that ripped through more than 23,000 homes and businesses and killed more than 100 people.
Last year, former executives and directors agreed to pay $117 million to settle a lawsuit over the 2017 and 2018 California wildfires, including the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed much of the city of Paradise County. of Butte.
The complaint was a consequence of a $13.5 billion settlement PG&E reached with wildfire victims while the utility was mired in bankruptcy from January 2019 to June 2020.
PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 felony manslaughter charges for causing the Camp Fire and was fined $4 million, the maximum penalty allowed.
Also last year, PG&E agreed to pay more than $55 million to avoid criminal prosecution in a deal with prosecutors in six counties devastated by the 2021 Dixie Fire and 2019 Kincade Fire.
The Dixie Fire burned more than 1,300 homes and other buildings. The fire was caused by a tree striking power distribution lines west of a dam in the Sierra Nevada.