Cal Fire clears PG&E in huge Napa, Sonoma fire, but still on course for bankruptcy

by Steve Blum • , ,

PG&E might be out of the chain of liability for the deadly October 2017 Tubbs fire, which swept through 37,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties, burning exurban estates and Santa Rosa tract homes alike. Cal Fire released a report yesterday that points the finger of blame at household electrical equipment on private property.

The lead investigator, Cal Fire battalion chief John Martinez, concluded “during my investigation, I eliminated all other causes for the Tubbs Fire, with the exception of an electrical caused fire originating from an unknown event affecting privately owned conductor or equipment”. In other words, PG&E was not to blame and, assuming Cal Fire’s conclusion are taken as authoritative by courts (quite possible) and the predatory bar (yeah, right), won’t be liable for the 22 deaths or the billions of dollars of damage resulting from the Tubbs fire.

(The full report contains vignettes of trial lawyers beaming in with alleged proof, complete with powerpoint presentations, of who was responsible. None were even close.)

That’s probably not enough to stall PG&E’s planned bankruptcy filing next week, though. In a press release, PG&E made it clear that it’s looking at bills it can’t pay…

PG&E still faces extensive litigation, significant potential liabilities and a deteriorating financial situation, which was further impaired by the recent credit agency downgrades to below investment grade. Resolving the legal liabilities and financial challenges stemming from the 2017 and 2018 wildfires will be enormously complex and will require us to address multiple stakeholder interests, including thousands of wildfire victims and others who have already made claims and likely thousands of others we expect to make claims.

The 2018 Camp fire was even more deadly and destructive, and both initial and follow up reports, by PG&E and others, point more directly at the company. But Cal Fire has reached no conclusions and its investigation continues.