$50 Million Payout for Causing Fires in California’s National Forests

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Damage from Power Fire (photo: fredsharples, Foter.com)

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and its contractors have agreed to pay more than $50 million for causing two wildfires last decade that burned thousands of acres of national forest land in California.

In 2004, about 13,000 acres were consumed in the Power Fire in the Eldorado National Forest, east of Sacramento, which began after a crew of workers were careless with their cigarettes in a heavily wooded area under extreme hazardous fire conditions. The workers were employed by VCS Sub Inc., a subsidiary of Quanta Services Inc., which PG&E had hired to trim trees and brush around a utility distribution line.

The fire damaged protected habitats for the northern spotted owl, caused harmful erosion into watersheds, and destroyed artifacts in Native American historical sites, according to federal prosecutors. It cost Quanta $45 million. PG&E and Quanta denied liability for the fire, but agreed to settle the case.

In the second settlement, PG&E, ACRT Inc. and Davey Tree Surgery agreed to pay $5.5 million for the 2008 blaze that burned 5,000 acres in the Mendocino National Forest, three hours north of San Francisco.

The Whiskey Fire started “when PG&E transmission lines contacted branches of a gray pine tree that was less than two feet away from the line, well under the minimum amount of clearance required by state law,” government lawyers said.

–Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Fires in National Forests Net $50M in Settlements (by Elizabeth Warmerdam, Courthouse News Service)

PG&E Contractor Settles Fire Case (by Will Kane, San Francisco Chronicle)

Firms to Pay Feds for Roles in Wildfires (by Denny Walsh, Sacramento Bee)

PG&E Scrambles to Catch Up after Firing Workers over Missed Electrical Inspections (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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