Judge wants utility to explain role in Camp Fire, other wildfires

PG&E outage occurred 15 minutes before fire began

By CHRIS BOYETTE AND NICOLE CHAVEZ, CNN
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Camp Fire burns in the hills on Nov. 11, 2018, near Oroville, California.

(CNN) - A federal judge has ordered California's Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to explain any potential role it played causing the deadly Camp Fire and any other major wildfires in the state, court documents show.

In a court filing, Judge William Alsup of the US District Court for the Northern District of California said the electric utility should also explain whether "reckless operation or maintenance of PG&E power lines" sparked any wildfires and answer additional questions about power line safety and wildfires.

The company has until Dec. 31 to submit written answers to federal officials, the document states.

Cal Fire, the state's forestry and fire protection agency, has said the cause of the Camp Fire -- the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history -- is still under investigation.

The order comes a few weeks after PG&E disclosed in a regulatory filing that it "experienced an outage" on a transmission line in Butte County about 15 minutes before the Camp Fire broke out on November 8.

In a statement, PG&E spokesman James Guidi said the company was aware of the court filing.

"Nothing is more important than the safety of our customers, employees, contractors and the communities we serve. We are aware of the court's notice and are currently reviewing. We continue to focus on assessing infrastructure, safely restoring power where possible, and helping our customers recover and rebuild," he said.

The company is currently on probation after it was found guilty of several charges, including obstruction of justice, after a section of PG&E pipeline exploded in San Bruno, killing eight people and injuring more than 50 others. The blast destroyed 37 homes.

In the wake of that incident, the company was fined $1.6 billion by regulators, paid hundreds of millions in claims to the victims and victims' families, replaced hundreds of miles of pipe, installed new gas leak technology and implemented nearly a dozen recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Last year, the utility was sentenced to five years of probation, and ordered to pay $3 million in fines and run television and newspaper ads "publicizing the nature of the offenses committed," according to court documents.

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