The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has imposed a $45 million penalty on Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) concerning the Dixie Fire of 2021.
This fire, recognized as the largest single fire in California’s history, was attributed to PG&E’s delayed response to an outage that occurred in July 2021.
CPUC safety investigators identified the nearly 1-million-acre Dixie Fire as a consequence of PG&E’s sluggish reaction to a power outage on July 13, 2021.
This outage was triggered when a diseased, 65-foot tall Douglas fir toppled onto a PG&E power line near the Cresta Dam in Butte County.
Further investigations revealed that PG&E had failed to recognize this at-risk tree in previous patrols, despite visible signs of damage from disease and an earlier fire.
The settlement agreed upon involves PG&E allocating $40 million of stockholder funds towards digitizing its vegetation management records over the next five years.
This investment aims to enhance vegetation management patrols and the inspection of equipment.
Additionally, $5 million of the penalty will be divided equally between the general fund and payments to groups representing the Greenville Rancheria and the Mountain Maidu Native American tribes.
The Dixie Fire, which took weeks to extinguish, resulted in the destruction of over 1,300 structures and left four people injured.
Investigators pointed out that the fallen tree caused the outage at 7 a.m., but it wasn’t until nearly 5 p.m. that a PG&E technician arrived at the scene. By then, the fire had already begun.
PG&E has informed regulators that it now mandates a technician response within one hour of a reported outage in high fire risk areas.
In a statement, the utility acknowledged the CPUC’s decision and expressed its commitment to improving fire safety.
PG&E stated: “We are working hard to make our system safer every day.”
The company accepted Cal Fire’s finding that a tree falling on its line caused the fire but maintained: “PG&E believes we acted as a prudent operator.”
“There is no evidence that PG&E consciously and willfully disregarded a known risk,” the statement continued.
The company also defended its response to the outage, describing it as “reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances.” It was mentioned that the lineman who arrived at the scene “fought the fire heroically by himself before CAL FIRE arrived.”
Despite contesting some of the fire findings, PG&E does not dispute the allegations related to recordkeeping and other non-fire-causing violations.