SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. — Prosecutors in Sonoma county kicked off weeks of preliminary hearings Tuesday against PG&E. They pressed criminal charges, blaming PG&E for starting a large wildfires in 2019.
If convicted, it would add to a lengthy criminal rap sheet for PG&E that already includes 91 felonies.
PG&E got off probation only two weeks ago, but the utility was back in court to face 33 new criminal charges in Sonoma County. It's a mix of felonies and misdemeanors that come from the 2019 Kincade Fire, which burned in October of that year, destroying more than 100 homes.
Nobody died, but it came close. Multiple firefighters were injured, and those injuries are involved in some of the felony charges.
PG&E is also charged with environmental crimes for omission of air contaminants due to the wildfire smoke. PG&E tried unsuccessfully to get those charges tossed out by the judge before Tuesday's preliminary hearing.
The court session centered around the lead Cal Fire investigator for the Kincade Fire, Gary Uboldi .
He showed photos to the court, revealing details of the broken jumper cable on a high voltage PG&E transmission tower blamed for starting the fire.
Investigators said a powerline hit the metal tower, showering the ground below in sparks that led to the Kincade fire. That’s very similar to how the 2018 Camp Fire started before it destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County. That fire involved a broken hook instead of a broken cable. The judge ruled the two fires were similar enough that prosecutors can introduce evidence of other PG&E fires, but only from fires that burned before the 2019 Kincade Fire.
Prosecutors in Shasta County are watching the case closely. They filed similar charges for the 2020 Zogg Fire. That case also includes four counts of felony involuntary manslaughter because the fire claimed four lives.
PG&E admits that its powerline sparked the 2019 Kincade Fire. But the company argues any mistakes it made were “good faith judgment calls” and “not crimes.”
The response stands in contrast to the 2018 Camp Fire, which led PG&E to plead guilty to 85 felonies.