PG&E Found to Blame for 2019 Kincade Wildfire in California

Cal Fire determines cause of 78,000 acre wildfire just days after nation’s largest utility exits bankruptcy.
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California fire investigators said Thursday that PG&E Corp.  (PCG) - Get Report equipment failures were to blame for a 2019 wildfire in Northern California that burned 78,000 acres, destroyed 374 buildings and caused four injuries.

The finding came just days after PG&E exited bankruptcy proceedings that saw it settle billions of dollars in claims from fatal wildfires in 2017 and 2018. 

In May, the company said in a regulatory filing that it could face a loss of at least $600 million for the 2019 Kincade fire if it was found responsible.

State investigators found that the Kincade Fire “was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric,” according to a statement. The fire began Oct. 23, 2019 near Geyserville, Calif., about 80 miles north of San Francisco.

At the time of the fire, PG&E was already in bankruptcy stemming from fatal fires in 2017 and 2018. Last month the utility pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with a 2018 fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, Calif.

"At this time, we do not have access to CAL FIRE’s investigative report or the evidence it has collected," PG&E said in a statement. "We look forward to reviewing both at the appropriate time."

As part of its bankruptcy settlement, the utility is funding a wildfire victims trust with more than $5 billion, equivalent to about 20% of the newly constituted company. It also contributed roughly $5 billion to a state fund to backstop utilities hit by wildfire claims.

The Kincade Fire investigative report was forwarded to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, according to the statement from Cal Fire. 

Shares of PG&E fell 5 cents, or 0.55%, to $8.97 in after-hours trading. The stock lost 2% during the regular session Thursday.