SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — Sonoma County and several Northern California agencies sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Tuesday over damage caused by a wildfire that burned a large swath of land last year and caused nearly 100,000 people to flee.
The Kincade Fire scorched 121 square miles (313 square kilometers) and destroyed nearly 400 homes and other buildings in October 2019. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection later determined that the blaze was ignited by a PG&E-owned transmission line.
The utility previously told the California Public Utilities Commission that it had discovered a broken “jumper cable” on a high-voltage tower in the area where the fire started.
The lawsuit alleges that PG&E’s negligence caused the fire and it was legally responsible for the damage, KTVU-TV reported. The plaintiffs said in a press release that public agencies are entitled to damages “for injury to and loss of public resources, including but not limited to land, roads, and environmental resources.”
In a statement, PG&E said the affected transmission line “was inspected multiple times in 2019 as part of our Wildfire Safety Inspection Program — inspectors both climbed the tower and performed an inspection by reviewing photographs taken by an aerial drone.” It said any safety issues discovered “were resolved prior to the Kincade Fire with the exception of one, which related to the painting of the tower.”
PG&E’s aging equipment has sparked several major fires in recent years, including a 2018 blaze that destroyed much of the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. The utility pleaded guilty in June to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter — one death was ruled a suicide — and paid $25.5 billion in settlements to cover the losses from that and other recent power line-sparked catastrophes.
This year’s fire season has already been devastating, with four of the five largest fires in state history having ignited. The blazes have burned 6,400 square miles (16,576 square kilometers) and destroyed about 9,200 homes, businesses and other structures. There have been 31 deaths.
Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists have said climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.
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