June 16 (UPI) — Pacific Gas and Electric pleaded guilty Tuesday to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp Fire in California.
The company acknowledged its neglected equipment sparked the 2018 Camp Fire that ripped through the town of Paradise in Northern California.
Eighty-five people died in the Camp Fire, but prosecutors were unable to prove that one of the deaths was the company’s fault, resulting in the 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter.
A broken transmission line from a nearly 100-year-old Pacific Gas and Electric tower sparked the wildfire in November 2018, which destroyed most of Paradise. The company repeatedly failed to properly maintain the power line even though it cut through a heavily wooded and mountainous area, known to experience strong winds, an investigative report by the California Public Utilities Commission found.
PG&E’s Chief Executive Bill Johnson pleaded guilty to each of the counts Tuesday in Butte County Superior Court, where what remains of Paradise is located, before Judge Michael Deems, as pictures were displayed of the victims in the courtroom.
“I’m here today to take responsibility for the fire that killed these people,” Johnson told Judge Deems. “I’ve heard the pain and anguish. No words from me can ever reduce the magnitude of that devastation.”
PG&E also admitted its negligence by pleading guilty to one count of illegally setting a fire.
The company had agreed with the Butte County district attorney to plead guilty to all 84 counts for its role in the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history in March.
PG&E has also agreed to pay a maximum $3.5 million fine, in addition to $500,000 to the Butte County District Attorney Environmental and Consumer Protection Trust Fund to cover costs related to the fire investigation though a state judge has to approve the agreement.
The Camp Fire burned through more than 95 percent of the town of Paradise, including 14,000 homes and thousands of other buildings.
PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year. The bankruptcy process was in part used to reach settlements valued at approximately $25.5 billion with wildfire victims groups.
No company employees are expected to serve any prison time.
Tommy Wehe, the son of fire victim, Marie Wehe, a cancer survivor who died in the fire on Nov. 8, 2018, criticized the plea deal as not providing enough accountability.
“They have put profits over people year after year and the state of California just keeps letting it happen,” he said in a statement. “The company’s acceptance of guilt is inconsequential if the appropriate safety measures are not enacted to prevent future loss of life and property.”