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PG&E charged in California wildfire last year that killed 4

PG&E charged in California wildfire last year that killed 4

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PG&E charged in California wildfire last year that killed 4

In this Sept. 27, 2020, file photo, a house burns on Platina Road at the Zogg Fire near Ono, Calif. Pacific Gas & Electric has been charged with manslaughter and other crimes, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in a Northern California wildfire last year that killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric was charged Friday with involuntary manslaughter and other crimes after its equipment sparked a Northern California wildfire that killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes last year, prosecutors said.

It is the latest legal action against the nation’s largest utility, which pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in a 2018 blaze ignited by its long-neglected electrical grid that nearly destroyed the town of Paradise and became the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett announced the 31 charges, including 11 felonies, against PG&E, saying it failed to perform its legal duties and that its “failure was reckless and criminally negligent, and it resulted in the death of four people.”

If the utility is convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the punishment would be a fine for each person killed in the Zogg Fire last year near the city of Redding. A corporation “can’t go to jail, so we’re talking fines, fees, the ability for the court to order remedial and corrective measures,” Bridgett said.

“One of our primary functions here is to hold them responsible and let the surviving families know that their loved one did not die in vain,” she added.

PG&E CEO Patti Poppe said failing to prevent the fire was not a crime.

“This was a tragedy, four people died. And my coworkers are working so hard to prevent fires and the catastrophic losses that come with them. They have dedicated their careers to it, criminalizing their judgment is not right,” Poppe said in a statement.

The wind-whipped Zogg Fire began on Sept. 27, 2020, and raged through rugged terrain and small communities west of Redding, killing four people, burning about 200 homes and blackening about 87 square miles of land. Three of the victims died as they tried to outrun the blaze and were found inside or near their vehicles. A fourth victim died at a hospital.

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