SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) – Beleaguered utility company PG&E will not face criminal charges related to the deadly wildfires that devastated Northern California’s wine country in October 2017.
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, along with the District Attorneys for Napa, Humboldt and Lake Counties made the announcement Tuesday.
Cal Fire has determined that PG&E’s equipment caused many of the fires that scorched at least 245,000 acres in Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte, and Solano Counties. There are billions of dollars in civil lawsuits pending against the utility, which filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in January.
After an investigation, the District Attorneys agreed there was not sufficient evidence the utility “acted with a reckless regard for human life,” the criteria to sustain charges of criminal negligence. If there were, PG&E could have faced murder charges.
Prosecutors said it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that “PG&E acted with criminal negligence in failing to remove dead and dying trees.”
“Proving PG&E failed in their duty to remove trees was made particularly difficult in this context as the locations where the fires occurred, and where physical evidence could have been located, were decimated by the fires,” they said in a statement.
Even in the absence of criminal negligence, PG&E is facing up to $30 billion in damages if their equipment is to blame.
The October 2017 firestorm was the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California history. At least 86 people died and 15,000 homes were destroyed.