California power company charged with manslaughter over 2020 wildfire

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A California power company has been charged with manslaughter for its equipment sparking a 2020 wildfire that left four people dead and hundreds more homeless.

Pacific Gas and Electric, the country’s largest utility company, have been charged on 31 counts by prosecutors over the Zogg Fire, which burned last year near the city of Redding.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett announced that the manslaughter and other criminal charges against the company including 11 felonies.

Last year the company pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 blaze caused by its electrical grid that destroyed the town of Paradise in the deadliest US wildfire in a century.

The Zogg fire broke out on began on 27 September 2020 and burned around 87 square miles of the Sierra Nevada, killing four people and destroying almost 200 homes.

State investigators announced earlier this year that the fire started when a pine tree fell onto a PG&E transmission line.

The company has already been sued by Shasta and Tehama counties for negligence amid allegations that the company had failed to remove the tree despite it being marked for that action two years earlier.

PG&E has around 16m customers in central and northern California.

In 2019 it filed for bankruptcy protection after its equipment was blamed for a string of fires, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed 10,000 homes.

The company is still facing hundreds of lawsuits from that blaze but came out of bankruptcy last year after agreeing a $13.5bn settlement with around 70,000 wildfire victims.

Most of those people are reportedly still waiting for payment from a trust created by the company.

It is still on remains on criminal probation for a 2010 pipeline explosion in tSan Bruno, California, that killed eight people and which gave a federal judge oversight of the company.

Both the judge and the state’s power regulators have criticised the company for failing to deal with trees that pose a danger to its power lines.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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