Northern California’s Cascade Wildfire Tied to PG&E Equipment

By | October 9, 2018

PG&E Corp.-owned equipment caused the Cascade fire in Northern California last year, state investigators have determined.

Sagging power lines were the ignition source of the blaze, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention said in a statement. The Cascade fire — part of a complex of blazes in the northern part of the state last October — destroyed 264 structures and killed four people.

Investigators have already named PG&E equipment as the ignition source of 16 of the fires in last year’s outbreak while alleging violations of state law in 11 of those incidents. PG&E said in June that it will take a $2.5 billion pretax charge tied to some of those blazes. JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimated in August that the utility owner could be on the hook for as much as $17.3 billion.

Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that will help PG&E and other utilities cover the costs of wildfire damages, including by selling bonds backed by customer bills. PG&E has lost more than $10 billion in market value in the past year and faces about 200 legal complaints tied to the blazes. The utility suspended its dividend and withheld its 2018 profit guidance because of the uncertainty about how much it might have to pay for damages.

Under California law, utilities can be held liable for costs if their equipment is found to have caused a fire, even if they followed safety rules. Cal Fire still hasn’t released its report on the Tubbs blaze, the deadliest of last year’s fires.

On Oct. 5, PG&E reached a $1.5 million settlement with the Butte County district attorney for three of the October 2017 fires. The money will go toward monitoring PG&E’s rural power lines.

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