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PG&E Agrees to Plead Guilty to Criminal Charges in Fire

Utility's electric grid sparked Camp Fire in 2018
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 23, 2020 5:00 PM CDT

(Newser) – Pacific Gas & Electric will plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for a swath of death and destruction left behind after its fraying electrical grid ignited a 2018 wildfire that decimated three Northern California towns. The fire and its aftermath also drove the nation's largest utility into bankruptcy. The plea agreement announced Monday resolves the charges facing PG&E as part of a previously sealed indictment in Butte County, the AP reports. PG&E is serving a five-year criminal probation after its conviction on six felony counts involving a natural gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno, California. As with that conviction, no one from PG&E will go to prison for the felony crimes. Instead, the agreement with the Butte County District Attorney's office calls for PG&E to pay a $4 million fine, the maximum. It will also help pay to restore access to water for residents affected by the loss of a canal destroyed by what became known as the Camp Fire.

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"We cannot replace all that the fire destroyed, but our hope is that this plea agreement, along with our rebuilding efforts, will help the community move forward from this tragic incident," PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said. District Attorney Mike Ramsey said he hopes the plea agreement will bring "a bit of a sense of justice done." Butte County officials have pegged the wildfire's death toll at 85, but Ramsey disclosed Monday that further evidence cast doubt about whether one of the deaths was directly caused by the blaze. PG&E is scheduled to enter its plea and face sentencing on April 24. The Nov. 8, 2018, fire was fanned by strong winds, forcing thousands of people to flee in their cars as flames ripped through the canyon communities. The dead were found in burned-out cars and in the smoldering ruins of their homes.

(Read more Camp Fire stories.)

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