PG&E under investigation for causing September wildfire that killed 4 in California

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A tree burns from embers in Igo on September 27, 2020. - The Zogg Fire went from 400 acres to 7000 acres in a matter of hours, prompting mandatory evacuations in the region. - ALLISON DINNER/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — PG&E Corp., laboring to get past a history of causing major wildfires, said Friday it’s under investigation in connection with the start of the deadly Zogg Fire in Shasta County.

In a brief statement filed with the Public Utilities Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said Cal Fire investigators took possession of PG&E equipment Friday, more than two weeks after the fire began in a remote area north of the Shasta County community of Igo.

The disclosure represents a potentially troubling development for a company that’s been trying to shed a disastrous reputation for public safety. The tens of billions of dollars in liabilities from the 2017 wine country fires and 2018 Camp Fire drove PG&E into bankruptcy in early 2019.

The company didn’t go into detail about which equipment was seized by Cal Fire, but said the area where the fire started is served by a PG&E distribution line.

“California’s 2020 wildfire season has been unfortunately historic, with more than 4 million acres burned across the state so far,” the company said in a written announcement. “PG&E today filed an Electric Incident Report (EIR) with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) when PG&E learned that CAL FIRE had taken possession of PG&E equipment as part of CAL FIRE’s investigation into the cause of the Zogg Fire in Shasta County. The information in our EIR is preliminary. CAL FIRE’s investigation is ongoing, and we are cooperating fully.”

The Zogg Fire, which began Sept. 27, has killed four people and burned more than 56,000 acres. It’s the second deadliest fire, after the West Zone of the North Complex, in what has been a record-setting year for wildfires in California.

Cal Fire hasn’t yet assigned a cause to the fire. If PG&E’s equipment is blamed, the Zogg Fire would be the first big fire linked to the utility since last October’s Kincade Fire in Sonoma County.

PG&E emerged from bankruptcy this summer after pledging to California Gov. Gavin Newsom that it was overhauling its operations and leadership to put a greater emphasis on wildfire safety.

The company wrapped up the bankruptcy about a week after it pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter in connection with the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. Investigators determined that inadequate maintenance on an aging transmission tower caused the fire, which destroyed most of the town of Paradise. The fire started when a weathered clamp failed, allowing a live wire to brush against the metal tower and ignite a shower of sparks in the dry grass below.

“The evidence developed during this investigation clearly established that the reckless actions of PG&E created the risk of a catastrophic fire in the Feather River Canyon, that PG&E knew of that risk and PG&E ignored the risk by not taking any action to mitigate the risk,” the Butte County district attorney concluded in a report released the day of the guilty plea.


©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

ALLISON DINNER/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS
ALLISON DINNER/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS