Federal Judge Demands Answers from Power Utility Some Suspect Started California Fires


A federal judge responsible for supervising the power utility some believe played a part in starting California’s recent wildfires is now demanding the company come clean about the fires.

Judge William Alsup has given Pacific Gas & Electric until Dec. 31 to answer several questions about the company’s supposed role in the fires, which charred parts of California and led to dozens of deaths.

PG&E was convicted in 2017 in the fatal explosion of a gas pipeline in San Bruno in 2010.

The company is expected to answer questions related to “any wildfire started by reckless operation or maintenance of PG&E power lines” as well as “any inaccurate, slow, or failed reporting of information about any wildfire by PG&E,” according to Alsup’s brief.

The judge demanded an “accurate and complete statement of the role, if any, of PG&E in causing and reporting the recent Camp Fire in Butte County and all other wildfires in California since the judgment.”

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Some believe the company is responsible for the Camp Fire that scorched hundreds of thousands of acres in Northern California.

PG&E disclosed that its voltage power lines malfunctioned 15 minutes before the start of the Camp Fire was reported in the area on Nov. 8.

It could take several months for investigators to determine what caused the fires.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported Sunday that the fire was fully contained.

Much of the blaze was stifled after 2 to 4 inches of rain fell on the affected area on Friday.

“We are aware of the court’s notice and are currently reviewing,” PG&E said Tuesday in a press statement.

The company stated in its 2015 annual report that it paid down $558 million in third-party claims and $92 million in legal costs associated with the 2010 explosion, which killed eight people and affected 500 others.

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California’s energy regulator, meanwhile, is pledging a review of PG&E, as well as possibly breaking up the state’s largest utility. The regulator could also allow the utility to pass costs associated with liabilities from wildfires to customers.

The utility has withdrawn all of the available cash from its revolving credit lines, according to a Nov. 16 Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Companies often take such actions before a bankruptcy filing.

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