On Thursday, a group of more than 150 people in Shasta and Tehama Counties filed suit against Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in Shasta County Superior Court over property damage from the Zogg Fire that occurred in September and October of this year.
In late September, PG&E had shut off power in many parts of Shasta County to prevent wildfires, but failed to shut down power in an area near Zogg Mine Road. According to the lawsuit, a gray pine growing near power lines fell on the lines and sparked the wildfire, which ultimately destroyed over 200 buildings and killed 4 people.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has yet to make a ruling on what did cause the fire, but they have taken the gray pine into account. However, the plaintiffs in the case insist that this what caused the fire and that the utility company is at fault.
The lawsuit also points out PG&E’s track record of causing fires since 1981, noting that there have been at least 19. The largest of which, the Camp Fire, killed over 80 people and destroyed over 19,000 buildings in and around the town of Paradise in November 2018. This resulted in the company to enter bankruptcy due to the sheer volume of claims against them, they were nearly taken over by the state, and ultimately had to plead guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter and pay over $13 billion in fines and settlements.
“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,” said PG&E spokesman James Noonan on Thursday.
The lawsuit joins several other suits filed for damages during the Zogg Fire, including one filed by Shasta and Tehama Counties last week that was filed in San Francisco Superior Court.
“It’s really the responsibility of PG&E to step up and help become part of the solution in rebuilding the community rather than playing games and litigation,” said John Fiske, a lawyer representing both Counties in the San Francisco-filed suit.
PG&E may face more fines, punishments over recent lawsuits
Many experts have said that a ruling against PG&E is likely to happen in at least one of the lawsuits.
“Whenever there’s a bunch of lawsuits like this, at least one always pushes through,” former fire and arson investigator Oscar Chavez told the Globe. “PG&E has actually come out and said that they are going to lose money due to the Zogg Fire this year, and that isn’t exactly a statement of confidence.”
“Between the Zogg lawsuits and other current ones, including a big one over the Kincade Fire from last year, PG&E has a lot on its plate. Normally utility companies only have to focus on a few, but PG&E has been battling more and more wildfire related lawsuits ever since Paradise. That said, it’s the right thing to do to wait on Cal Fire. We should know, for sure, if they caused it or no. From the evidence, like that pine tree, it seems likely, but we need to make sure they are definitely at fault. Every fire investigator will tell you that you have to be 100% certain what happened. I feel for the victims in this fire. Every fire really. But justice and due process need to be observed.”
According to an SEC filing by PG&E last week, the company said that it is “reasonably possible that the amount of the loss will be greater than $275 million” for the quarter due to losses in the Zogg Fire.
The Shasta County Superior Court lawsuit, while asking for damages to be paid to every victim, did not name an amount in the lawsuit.
The case is expected to go to court in the coming months.