Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) may face severe criminal charges if it is determined that their equipment is at fault and caused California’s deadliest wildfire, the Camp Fire, that killed 86 people, burned 150,000 acres of land and destroyed 19,000 structures.
PG&E is running an internal investigation, even as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, filed documents Friday with Northern California’s federal district court, warning the utility that it could face severe charges if it is determined that it was their fault. Those charges could include murder and manslaughter charges.
The total costs of the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire could exceed 8.6 billion dollars.
“Throughout our service area, we are committed to doing everything we can to help further reduce the risk of wildfire,” PG&E said in the statement.
The company could face a series of lesser charges, including involuntary manslaughter if it didn’t properly clear vegetation around its power lines and poles, the brief said.
PG&E has acknowledged that its equipment may have started the Camp Fire, and U.S. District Judge William Alsup ordered the utility on Nov. 27 to investigate whether its equipment was responsible.
The financial pressure on the California utility has increased as more deadly wildfires caused by the company burn parts of the state. The costs of the fires are also being passed on to PG&E ratepayers after outgoing Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation allowing the utility to increase power costs to cover expenses from wildfires.
The insurance costs of damage done by the Camp and Woolsey Fires, which burned in California at roughly the same time, are estimated to range around $8.6 billion, according to the financial services company CoreLogic.
California investigators found that PG&E equipment caused 12 of 15 major wildfires that hit the state in 2017. Environmentalists blame increasing temperatures from climate change for the fires while President Donald Trump and Republicans call for better land management to reduce the risk of disaster.