Images from the Zogg Fire in Shasta County in September 2020. Pacific Gas & Electric announced a settlement on Wednesday. File Photo by Photo courtesy of California Conservation Corps/Wikimedia Commons
June 1 (UPI) -- West Coast utility giant PG&E announced on Wednesday that it reached a settlement with the Shasta County, Calif., attorney general's office concerning the deadly 2020 Zogg Fire, including a $45 million contribution to rebuilding communities.
PG&E noted in a statement that it had previously settled with individuals, families, organizations and Shasta County to provide compensation for damages from the Zogg Fire after the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had found that the blaze was started by a tree falling on a PG&E powerline.
"The agreement reflects our continuing commitment to making it right and making it safe," Patti Poppe, chief executive officer for PG&E, said. "We stand behind our thousands of trained and experienced coworkers and contractors working every day to keep Californians safe."
The blaze killed four people and burned more than 56,000 acres within the county.
The settlement follows a Superior Court order dismissing more than half of the 31 original criminal charges and tentatively dismissing all remaining felony charges. The court's tentative order noted there were multiple inspections in the area before the fire, the utility said.
Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said in a statement that she had hoped to take PG&E to trial to hold them criminally responsible but said the "tentative ruling changed our position."
"I am unwilling to gamble with the safety of Shasta County," she said. "I have a responsibility to the community and needed to secure what I can for all the citizens to prevent future wildfires, prevent future deaths and devastation, and to be as prepared as our county can be if another one occurs."
PG&E said there was no evidence that its inspections fell below the industry standard of care, and there also was no evidence that a risk involving the tree was visible before the fire.
"We feel strongly that those good-faith judgments are not criminal," Poppe said. "I'm grateful that the Shasta County District Attorney has agreed to work with us to make her community safer, and we look forward to the relationship this agreement creates."
PG&E will pay a $5 million civil penalty to Shasta County and will not seek cost recovery from customers with rate increases.
The utility also committed to implementing vegetation management systems in areas that face high fire risks, installing sensors that can detect faults on circuits, holding quarterly meetings with the district attorney's office and subjecting itself to monitoring by Shasta County for five years.