More than 150 in Shasta County join to sue PG&E over Zogg Fire
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has been sued again, this time by more than 150 people whose property was damaged in the Zogg Fire, which killed four people and destroyed 204 buildings this past fall.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday, the same day Shasta and Tehama counties filed suit against the utility, claiming the company was negligent by not removing a tree that fell into a high voltage electrical line that ignited the fire.
In October, two families also filed a lawsuit in Shasta County Superior Court against PG&E, claiming the utility did not properly maintain its power lines and did not adequately trim and cut trees away from electrical lines.
“We recognize the impact that the tragic loss of life and devastation of the Zogg Fire has had on this community. We are cooperating fully with CAL FIRE in its investigation. We remain focused on reducing wildfire risk across our service area and making our electric system more resilient to the climate-driven challenges we all face in California," PG&E spokesman James Noonan said.
In a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filiing on Dec. 11, PG&E officials said they expect to post a $275 million loss in connection to the Zogg Fire. The loss was for the quarter ending Dec. 31, the filing says.
The company also said it is "reasonably possible that the amount of the loss will be greater than $275 million," according to the filing.
The document does not provide details about the losses, except to say that it does not include penalties, fines or claims for damages imposed by government entities.
Probe focuses on a gray pine
The fire started on Zogg Mine Road in Igo on Sept. 27. While PG&E had shut off power that day to several areas in Shasta County and around the state because of high winds, the Zogg Mine Road area was not included in the shut-offs.
PG&E has said the winds in the area where the fire started didn't warrant shutting off power to residents on Zogg Mine Road.
While the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has not determined the cause of the Zogg Fire, the suit filed Thursday in Shasta County Superior Court alleges that PG&E was responsible for the blaze.
According to the lawsuit PG&E failed to remove a gray pine growing near power lines where the Zogg Fire started. That tree fell and struck a high-voltage power line, igniting vegetation and starting the Zogg Fire, the suit says.
While Cal Fire has said the cause of the blaze is still under investigation, the agency has confiscated part of the gray pine as evidence.
William Alsup, a federal judge overseeing PG&E's probation stemming from the 2010 San Bruno gas line explosion, said in court filings that photos of the gray pine indicate the tree was "looming" over transmission lines before the fire.
Since the Zogg Fire, Alsup has been seeking answers from the utility about tree trimming and removal around power lines on Zogg Mine Road, particularly around where the fire started near Jenny Bird Lane.
He has also asked PG&E to explain why the Zogg Mine Road area was not included in the Public Safety Power Shutoffs the day of the fire.
PG&E attorneys told the judge in one court document that after the Carr Fire the gray pine was identified for removal.
“PG&E currently believes the gray pine of interest may have been identified for removal (but not removed) during restoration efforts following the Carr Fire in 2018, based on certain records recently reviewed by PG&E concerning that restoration work,” according to PG&E’s reply to the judge’s questions.
Shortly before the fire was reported on Sept. 27, PG&E reported problems with its power lines and Smart Meters in the area where the fire broke out, according to court documents.
Suit seeks damages
The lawsuit filed in Shasta County Superior Court last week says PG&E has a record of its electrical lines starting 19 fires as far back as 1981.
One of those was the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 people, destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings and torched more than 153,000 acres in Butte County on a windy November morning.
PG&E was charged criminally and in June of this year agreed to plead guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter and one count of illegally starting a fire. The company agreed to a $4 million fine in the case.
The company also declared bankruptcy following the fire and under a plan submitted to the court the company has proposed paying $13.5 billion to victims of the Camp Fire.
All told, including lawsuits over PG&E’s alleged involvement in Bay Area fires, PG&E has agreed to pay about $25.5 billion to victims of fires dating back to 2015.
The suit filed by the 150 Shasta County residents says PG&E has put profits over public safety. The suit asks for damages paid to each of the defendants in the case, but does not include a specific amount.
Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter. He is among the first on the scene at breaking news incidents, reporting real time on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Damon is part of a dedicated team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 and email@example.com. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!