PG&E util­ity sued for ‘prof­its over safety’ in rash of deadly wild­fires

Manteca Bulletin - - Local / State -

BURLINGAME ( AP) — Pa­cific Gas and Elec­tric Co. was blamed in three law­suits filed Tues­day for neg­li­gence in the wild­fires that killed more than 40 peo­ple and de­stroyed over 8,000 homes in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia last month.

The law­suits al­lege the San Fran­cisco-based util­ity and its par­ent PG&E Corp. put prof­its over safety by fail­ing to trim trees and veg­e­ta­tion around power lines and didn’t main­tain aging equip­ment that con­trib­uted to the deadly se­ries of wind-driven fires that broke out Oct. 8 and raged across sev­eral counties, in­clud­ing the heart of wine coun­try.

The suits were filed on be­half of three cou­ples who lost their homes in the fires, in­clud­ing for­mer San Fran­cisco Mayor Frank Jor­dan, and a cou­ple hos­pi­tal­ized af­ter sur­viv­ing the fire by float­ing in their swim­ming pool for hours and dunk­ing un­der­wa­ter re­peat­edly to es­cape the ex­treme heat as flames blew around them and de­stroyed ev­ery­thing they owned.

“This calamity was pre­ventable,” at­tor­ney Frank Pitre said.

PG&E spokesman Don­ald Cut­ler said the law­suit was based on as­sump­tions be­cause the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cause of the fires isn’t com­plete. He also said the com­pany’s brush clear­ance meets or ex­ceeds fed­eral and state re­quire­ments and the com­pany in­spects power lines at least once a year.

The state De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pre­ven­tion has not de­ter­mined the cause of the fires yet, but said elec­tri­cal equip­ment is one po­ten­tial source. PG&E has said the state is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether its power lines and equip­ment were a pos­si­ble cause.

In re­sponse to pre­vi­ous suits from the fire, PG&E said in a court fil­ing that a pri­vate power line may have sparked the fire that killed 21 peo­ple and de­stroyed more than 4,400 homes in Sonoma County. An­other 22 peo­ple were killed and at least 4,500 more struc­tures were de­stroyed in other fires in the re­gion.

Pitre said PG&E had pro­vided no sup­port for its claims that a third-party may have been in­volved and he crit­i­cized the le­gal fil­ing that gar­nered a front-page head­line in the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle.

“We are outraged at the most re­cent PG&E sub­mis­sion, which cap­tured a head­line where PG&E seeks to shift and de­flect blame to an un­known per­son based on un­known facts,” Pitre said. “That’s not trans­parency in our view. That’s se­crecy. And, frankly, we’re tired of it.”

Pitre said the law­suits were aimed at get­ting the util­ity and state in­ves­ti­ga­tors to turn over ma­te­ri­als that will pin­point the cause of the fires.


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