Californian Utility Company Ordered to Pay $1-Billion to Cover Wildfire Damages Caused by their Downed Power Lines

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Firefighters tackle the Camp Fire. Credit: AP

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp (PG&E) has agreed to pay $1bn to local California authorities to cover damages from a series of deadly wildfires caused by its downed power lines. The settlements announced on Tuesday do not include hundreds of individual claims made by businesses and homeowners, which could amount to more than $30-billion.

The settlements will be paid out to 14 different bodies as part of the utility company’s bankruptcy reorganization. The San Francisco-based utility company filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, citing billions of dollars in liabilities from lawsuits it is facing.

“What we hope is that PG&E can come out of bankruptcy as soon as possible so these funds can be paid,” John Fiske, a lawyer from a firm representing the agencies told Bloomberg.

High winds knocking down power lines during hot, dry weather have been blamed for starting some of the state’s worst-ever wildfires. The claims stem from the 2015 Butte Fire, the 2017 North Bay Fires and the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest in state history. The city of Paradise, which was all but destroyed in a wildfire in November, will receive $270m. The Camp Fire, which started in Butte County, claimed 85 lives – the deadliest in state history.

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Thousands of structures perished in the Camp Fire. Credit: meteoweb

Last month, regulators agreed to let utilities temporarily cut off electricity to possibly hundreds of thousands of customers during peak fire conditions to avoid starting more wildfires.

California’s other two investor-owned utilities have warned that wildfire liabilities could force rate increases later this year, according to ABC.

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