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California utility giant PG&E pays $55 million settlement over Kincaide and Dixie wildfires

By Cheri Mossburg, CNN

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) will pay $55 million as part of a settlement with multiple Northern California counties scorched by wildfires that were sparked by faulty utility equipment, according to releases from the California utility giant and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.

Criminal charges over the 2019 Kincade Fire will be dismissed and none will be sought in the 2021 Dixie Fire, the agreement said, according to PG&E.

In exchange, the company will strengthen wildfire mitigation plans, and pay not only the residents directly affected, but the six counties in which those residents reside: Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta, Sonoma and Tehama.

The Kincade Fire burned more than 77,000 acres in Sonoma County and destroyed 374 homes, prompting the county’s largest evacuation in history. It was caused by a broken jumper cable on a transmission line, Cal Fire officials determined. Four people were injured.

PG&E previously agreed to pay a $125 million fine, according to a settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission. In April 2021, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch had charged PG&E with five felonies and 28 misdemeanors over the Kincade Fire.

The Dixie Fire charred close to a million acres in the summer of 2021, making it California’s second-largest fire in history. Spanning five counties, the fire burned for more than three months, claiming one life and more than 1,300 homes after a power line came in contact with a tree.

The bulk of the payout — $35 million — will go to non-profit organizations including schools, volunteer fire departments, and community groups, PG&E and the Sonoma County district attorney said. Additionally, Sonoma County will receive $7.5 million in civil penalties, and the other five counties will get $1 million each.

As part of the settlement, PG&E will hire 80 to 100 new wildfire safety positions in Sonoma County and at least another 80 across the other five counties to beef up vegetation management and equipment inspections.

PG&E can expect an independent monitor to ensure compliance for the next five years, and the utility may not pass the costs onto customers.

The company, which announced last year it would work to bury 10,000 miles of power lines, said in February it hopes to get 175 miles underground this year and 3,600 by 2026. The company said it has 25,500 miles of distribution lines in areas in or near high-fire risk.

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