California Utility Tied To Devastating Wildfires To File For Bankruptcy

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Pacific Gas and Electric, the power company blamed for sparking several devastating wildfires in California in recent years, announced Monday it will file for bankruptcy later this month.

The company is facing billions of dollars in claims related to November’s Camp fire, which destroyed nearly 19,000 structures and killed at least 86 people, as well as several infernos in 2017.

The Camp fire, which obliterated the town of Paradise, is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history and was the costliest natural disaster worldwide in 2018. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation, but CNN reported last month it is believed to have started when a PG&E power line came in contact with tree branches.

An attorney representing victims of the fire said there’s “pretty overwhelming” evidence that the utility is at fault, CNBC reported in November.

In October 2017, a series of wind-driven wildfires, aptly named the Northern California “firestorm,” ripped through several counties. Investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection later determined that a dozen of those blazes were started by PG&E equipment and power lines, and that in eight of those cases the company was in violation of state laws concerning maintenance and brush clearing.

PG&E faces at least $30 billion in liabilities from damage during the 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons. And its stock has plummeted, down 88 percent from late 2017.

The utility plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy around Jan. 29. The announcement comes one day after the resignation of company CEO 

“The people affected by the devastating Northern California wildfires are our customers, our neighbors and our friends, and we understand the profound impact the fires have had on our communities and the need for PG&E to continue enhancing our wildfire mitigation efforts,” interim CEO John Simon said in a statement Monday. “We remain committed to helping them through the recovery and rebuilding process.”

Simon said that a court-supervised bankruptcy “will best enable PG&E to resolve its potential liabilities in an orderly, fair and expeditious fashion.”

Newly inaugurated California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who has prioritized combating California’s wildfire crisis, said in a statement Monday that he will work with lawmakers and stakeholders in the coming months to find “a solution that ensures consumers have access to safe, affordable and reliable service, fire victims are treated fairly, and California can continue to make progress toward our climate goals.”

Reuters contributed to this report.





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