Settling a lawsuit that blamed company equipment and poor maintenance for sparking a major wildfire, Pacific Gas & Electric Company agreed to pay Butte County $1.5 million.
The settlement, rising out of legal action following last year's La Porte, Cherokee and Honey fires, will fund two seasonal, two-person teams dedicated to inspecting power lines and poles in wildland areas.
The teams will be entirely under the supervision of the county fire department, not PG&E.
The money is expected to last four or five years. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said the agreement is similar to one signed in the 1990s following other damaging fires.
Investigators determined that vegetation disturbed by high winds last October sparked both the LaPorte and Cherokee fires. But it was the Honey Fire in Butte Creek Canyon, also last October, which raised more significant legal issues. That blaze, started by a poorly trimmed tree touching a power line, threatened the town of Paradise. Cal Fire determined that PG&E had failed to properly trim the tree.
Ramsey said he was proud of the settlement as successful criminal prosecution wouldn’t have yielded more than a $1,000 fine. PG&E is forbidden under the agreement from using customer rate increases to pay the settlement.
Under the agreement PG&E admits no fault or liability.