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PG&E Zogg Fire Hearings: Day 6 | Blog Updates

Updates on the Zogg Fire hearings on Tuesday, Jan. 31 from Shasta County Superior Court.

REDDING, Calif. — ABC10 is in court, where day 6 of PG&E’s Zogg Fire manslaughter hearing is underway. To catch up on day 5 of coverage, click HERE.

This blog will be updated as the court hearing continues.

2:57 p.m. PST

And we're done much earlier than expected today. Shasta County DA is not yet prepared to rest--there's an outstanding issue of the admission of some pieces of evidence. But it looks like the PG&E team's defense will begin tomorrow.

2:41 p.m. PST

Judge rules in PG&E team's favor on air quality counts. Says he thinks the DA would be "unable to prove" that PG&E *emitted* pollutants. They may have been able to prove that PG&E's actions *caused* them to be emitted. Misdemeanor Counts 18-27 are now out of the hearing.

2:35 p.m. PST

Central argument of PG&E atty. Cravis is that PG&E's equipment did not "emit" the air contaminants, but rather the fire did, and therefore PG&E should not be held liable.

2:31 p.m. PST

Chief Deputy DA Hanna argues the statue does apply in their case. By the "clear meaning of the word emit," PG&E did emit air pollutants, he says, and PG&E team is "reading too far" into the statute.

2:28 p.m. PST

PG&E atty. Cravis says the language of the statute in question is intended for stationary emitters like factories, not for the type of air pollution that came from the Zogg Fire. 

2:22 p.m. PST

Fuentes is done. PG&E team now asking to dismiss all air contaminant charges because they argue PG&E did not "emit" contaminants, citing this legal code and now going into the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of "emit."

Credit: ABC10 / Tyler Horst
Citing legal code to determine if air contaminant charges against PG&E should be dismissed.

2:20 p.m. PST

PG&E team attempting to cast doubt on Fuentes' expertise regarding hazard trees, reading from the transcript of the DA Investigator's interview with him where he said he might "not be the person" to answer questions about hazard trees.

2:11 p.m. PST

PG&E cross-exam: Chief Fuentes says he joined Utility Fire Mitigation in 2019, and did some work on the 2020 revision to the Fire Prevention Field Guide (the 2008 version, which was in effect for many years, is in evidence), but not the section on "Hazard Trees."

2:06 p.m. PST

DA is asking Chief Fuentes about the Power Line Fire Prevention Field Guide. They move it into evidence and it's received.

2:01 p.m. PST

Now: Jeff Fuentes, with CAL FIRE's Utility Fire Mitigation unit.

Credit: ABC10 / Tyler Horst
Jeff Fuentes of CAL FIRE's Utility Fire Mitigation unit prepares to testify in the PG&E Zogg Fire manslaughter hearing.

1:58 p.m. PST

PG&E atty. asks a rapid-fire series of questions about Houston's interviews with PG&E employees that we've heard about before, wherein employees said preventing wildfires is important to PG&E and related challenges of vegetation management. Then Houston is done.

1:51 p.m. PST

The Ponder Fire was approx. 5x5 feet, Houston says. To be clear, nobody died in the Ponder, Daniel, or Woody Fires.

1:50 p.m. PST

On to the Ponder Fire. Houston says he did not conduct the investigation, does not know if the investigating engineer is aware of any witnesses to the start of the fire, nor if the investigating engineer was aware of evidence of damage to the pole before the fire.

1:41 p.m. PST

PG&E team cross-examining Houston now. Asking about the Senior Criminalist from CA Dept. of Justice that examined the piece of bark from the subject tree for paint. Is it possible the subject tree was never marked with paint? Houston: "Yes."

1:31 p.m. PST

And we are back for the afternoon session of the PG&E Zogg Fire manslaughter hearing.

11:55 a.m. PST

DA is done interviewing Houston. Now we're on to the afternoon break.

11:54 a.m. PST

Houston discusses an interview with asthma researcher Kari Nadeau, who has studied effects of wildfire smoke in particular. Then a brief discussion of the person who previous witnesses testified to causing troubles for tree crews. Houston says this person has since passed away.

11:45 a.m. PST

But it's brief anyway. Houston essentially confirms that Loomis told him in his interview the same things he told the court last week. Now we are on to air quality issues...

11:44 a.m. PST

Now getting into Houston's interview of Ken Loomis, a PG&E employee who has previously testified in this case about concerns he said he raised at PG&E about their tree trimming practices. PG&E's lawyers object that this is ground we've already covered. Judge overrules.

11:43 a.m. PST

Houston briefly discusses some images of the origin point of the last small fire charged in this case: the Ponder Fire, noting damage to this PG&E pole

Credit: ABC10 / Tyler Horst
A slide of damage to a PG&E pole taken at the Ponder Fire.
Credit: ABC10 / Tyler Horst
Shasta County DA's Office investigator Alex Houston, discusses an image taken at the Ponder Fire.

11:29 a.m. PST

Houston was "not able to locate" evidence of paint residue on the Zogg tree. Says he conducted an experiment with a team of scientists holding a portion of painted bark to a small fire, and they were not able to detect visible paint for the area that was burned.

11:25 a.m. PST

Houston says he observed "numerous" vegetation clearance violations along the unburned portion of the Girvan Circuit, the line that sparked the Zogg Fire, during his investigation after the fire.

11:20 a.m. PST

Shasta County DA Investigator Alex Houston now gets up from the prosecution side where he's been sitting the past 2 weeks and takes the stand. This is the first time we're hearing from him in the PG&E manslaughter hearing of the Zogg Fire.

Credit: ABC10 / Tyler Horst
Shasta County DA Investigator Alex Houston on the stand during the PG&E Zogg Fire manslaughter hearing.

11:13 a.m. PST

On the Woody Fire: Zulliger says that gray pine tree limb was not preserved for evidence. Witness told him that PG&E or its contractors had been to her property in months prior to the fire but were due to return to "finish the job." Does not know if any further work was scheduled.

11:02 a.m. PST

PG&E team cross-exam: Zulliger says he did not write the CAL FIRE report on the Daniel Fire. He is "not aware" of any witnesses to the start of that fire identified by CAL FIRE. He is aware there was a "possibility" a car started it but it's his belief it was the oak tree.

10:59 a.m. PST

Now moving on to the Daniel Fire, another of the felony counts. Zulliger says this time it was an oak tree.

10:58 a.m. PST

Zulliger says the property owner told him PG&E had marked the tree that failed and caused the Woody Fire. Provided him this document that was just admitted to evidence.

Credit: ABC10 / Tyler Horst
Evidence related to the tree that is believed to have started the Woody Fire having been marked by PG&E.

10:46 a.m. PST

As a reminder, here are the charges in the PG&E Zogg Fire manslaughter hearing. The Woody Fire charge is 1 of those 5 felonies for recklessly causing a fire.

Credit: ABC10
The list of charges in the PG&E Zogg Fire manslaughter hearing.

10:31 a.m. PST

Chief Zulliger is now recounting his day on the Woody Fire, one of the other smaller fires that Shasta DA has charged PG&E with in addition to the Zogg Fire. Says he found the branch of a gray pine had fallen into PG&E's lines there. The same type of tree that failed in the Zogg Fire. 

10:26 a.m. PST

Next up is JT Zulliger, Battalion Chief for Prevention in CAL FIRE's Shasta-Trinity unit.

Credit: ABC10 / Tyler Horst
JT Zulliger, Battalion Chief for Prevention in CAL FIRE's Shasta-Trinity unit, takes the stand during the PG&E Zogg Fire manslaughter hearing.

10:20 a.m. PST

DA is done with Fischer for now. PG&E cross exam also brief: asked Fischer a few questions about exhibits we've already seen like tree risk assessment manuals, regarding procedures for inspections.

10:12 a.m. PST

The Hazard Tree Rating System (HTRS) became the Tree Assessment Tool (TAT). Fischer says he is "not aware" of any concerns with the HTRS that initiated the name change.

10:09 a.m. PST

Fischer was a Supervising Program Manager for PG&E. Says he was part of developing what's called the Hazard Tree Rating System (HTRS), which he says evaluates the likelihood and potential consequences of a tree falling into equipment.

9:54 a.m. PST

First to take the stand is Niel Fischer, a former PG&E employee who worked various jobs in "vegetation management" throughout his career. 

Credit: ABC10 / Tyler Horst
Former PG&E employee Niel Fischer testifies during the PG&E Zogg Fire manslaughter hearing.

9:46 a.m. PST

To clarify: each party has their own expert witnesses on air quality. The DA now says they are ok with each being present for the others' testimony.

9:40 a.m. PST

DA atty. Frazier says there's no evidence of a "discovery violation" alleged by PG&E lawyers. The people have "met all their obligations," he says. Judge admits the DA's air quality witness. DA agrees to allow PG&E lawyers' expert to listen to theirs' testimony, and vice versa.

9:22 a.m. PST

Before calling the first witness of the day, both parties discuss PG&E lawyers' motion to exclude one of Shasta County DA's expert witnesses on air quality issues. PG&E lawyers say they weren't provided adequate info by the DA on what this expert would say on the stand.

8:51 a.m. PST

Back in court today for week 3 of the PG&E manslaughter hearing for the Zogg Fire picking up for Brandon Rittiman while he’s out. Follow for updates… 

WATCH MORE: In wildfire crisis, California's government protects PG&E

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