California's Largest Utility Provider Charged With Manslaughter Over 2020 Zogg Fire

California's largest utility provider was charged with manslaughter after its equipment sparked a wildfire in Northern California last year, the Associated Press reported.

The Shasta County District Attorney issued 31 charges, including 11 felonies, against Pacific Gas and Electric after it deemed the company "criminally liable" for the Zogg Fire that killed four people and burned about 200 homes near Redding in 2020.

State investigators determined that the fire started when a gray pine tree fell onto a PG&E transmission line. Shasta and Tehama counties sued the utility company for negligence, alleging PG&E failed to remove the tree even though it had been marked for removal two years earlier.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Zogg Fire
A house burns on Platina Road during the Zogg Fire near Ono, California, on September 27, 2020. Pacific Gas & Electric was charged with manslaughter and other crimes on September 24, 2021, for its alleged role in starting the Zogg fire in Northern California that killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes. Ethan Swope/AP Photo

PG&E, which has an estimated 16 million customers in Central and Northern California, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019 after its aging equipment was blamed for a series of fires, including the 2018 Camp Fire near Paradise that killed 85 people and destroyed 10,000 homes, and it faced hundreds of lawsuits.

Company officials have acknowledged that PG&E hasn't lived up to expectations in the past but said changes in leadership and elsewhere ensure it's on the right track and will do better. They have listed a wide range of improvements that include using more advanced technology to avoid setting wildfires and help detect them quicker.

PG&E also remains on criminal probation for a 2010 pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area city of San Bruno that killed eight people, giving a federal judge oversight of the company. The judge and California power regulators have rebuked PG&E for breaking promises to reduce the dangers posed by trees near its power lines.

PG&E emerged from bankruptcy last summer and negotiated a $13.5 billion settlement with some wildfire victims. But it still faces both civil and criminal actions.

The Sonoma County district attorney's office filed charges in April over a 2019 blaze that forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate.

In the meantime, most of the roughly 70,000 victims who have filed claims for devastation caused by PG&E's past misdeeds still are awaiting payment from a trust created during the bankruptcy. The trust, which is run independently of PG&E, is facing a nearly $2 billion shortfall because half its funding came in company stock.

Pacific Gas and Electric
Power lines during a Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) public safety power shutoff on November 20, 2019, in Santa Rosa, California. PG&E has been charged with manslaughter for its alleged role in starting the Zogg Fire in 2020 that killed four people. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images