California wildfires: Seeking solutions to a wicked problem (copy)

In this Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 file photo, firefighter Jose Corona sprays water as flames from the Camp Fire consume a home in Magalia. 

Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey said Wednesday he is continuing an investigation into whether “PG&E or any of its personnel have any criminal liability” in the deadly 2018 Camp Fire.

The statement came in the wake of Cal Fire’s announcement that it has determined the fire was caused by PG&E electrical transmission lines in the Sierra foothills in eastern Butte County.

The state agency said the fire was promoted by tinder-dry vegetation, strong winds and hot and dry weather. The fire swept southwest through the county and killed 85 people, burned 153,336 acres, destroyed 18,804 structures and leveled most of the city of Paradise.

Cal Fire said it is referring its report to the Butte County district attorney.

Ramsey said in his statement that his office and the California attorney general’s office have already been investigating the fire since November.

The district attorney said the investigation could take weeks or months longer and said he won’t comment further until it is completed. The full Cal Fire report will be confidential until a final decision is made on whether to file criminal charges, he said.

PG&E Co. said in a statement that it accepts Cal Fire’s conclusion on the cause of the fire and said it is “fully cooperating with all ongoing investigations.”

The utility is currently in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding, which enables it to suspend its debts and potential lawsuit liability while it develops a financial reorganization plan.

The Butte County district attorney previously conducted a misdemeanor criminal probe of the smaller 2017 Honey Fire in that county, which burned 150 acres. No one was injured. PG&E reached a $1.5 million settlement with the district attorney in that case.

But U.S. District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco concluded in January that the utility violated its probation in a federal criminal pipeline safety case by failing to tell its probation officer about the settlement.

On Monday, Alsup signed an order requiring the PG&E board of directors and senior managers to visit Paradise by July 15 as the utility’s sentence for the probation violation.

He also ordered the utility leaders to visit San Bruno, the site of a fatal PG&E natural gas pipeline explosion in 2010, and to establish a board committee to monitor wildfire prevention efforts.

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