PG&E hit with $225 million lawsuit over Dixie Fire damages

A coalition of timber companies has filed a lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. seeking roughly $225 million in damages from a 2021 fire sparked by a utility power line.

The complaint, filed Wednesday by Oregon-based Collins Pine Co. and six affiliated timber businesses with property in the Collins Almanor Forest in Plumas and Tehama counties, alleges that PG&E failed to properly manage the forest and electrical equipment to prevent the devastating Dixie fire and that the businesses suffered massive financial damages as a result.

A 2022 investigation by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found that the Dixie fire, the second largest in California history, “was caused by a tree contacting electrical distribution lines owned and operated” by the utility company.

The timber companies claimed the fire, which burned through nearly 1 million acres in Butte, Plumas, Shasta, Lassen and Tehama counties in the summer and fall of 2021, incinerated approximately 55,000 acres of their property, including “commercial-grade timber, trees of many species and ages (some over 200 years old), roads, structures, bridges, culverts, and many of the research plots.”

The Collins Pine Co. claimed that the fire burned through an additional 500 acres of land for which it owns timber rights and that its mill was “significantly injured” and timber supply ruined.

The damages tally up to more than $225 million combined.

The complaint, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, alleges that PG&E “negligently, recklessly, and willfully failed to properly, safely, and prudently inspect, repair, maintain, and operate” its electrical equipment and surrounding vegetation, including hazardous trees.

“Had Defendants acted responsibly, the Dixie Fire could have been prevented,” the companies wrote.

PG&E spokesperson JD Guidi did not comment on the allegations, but said the company “is aware the suit has been filed but we have yet to be served.”

The Dixie fire burned through Northern California for more than three months, and is listed as one of the state’s most destructive blazes. Drought and shifting wind conditions helped the fire erupt into a monster inferno that tore through several rural counties, incinerating the town of Greenville and blanketing the region in heavy smoke.

The California Public Utilities Commission in January fined PG&E $45 million for its role in the fire, which has been attributed to a Douglas fir tree that “fell and struck energized conductors owned and operated” by the utility company.

The penalty was the latest in a long string of fines, lawsuits and legislation intended to hold PG&E accountable for several fires its equipment helped ignite.

Other fires tied to the company’s equipment include the Zogg fire in 2020, the 2019 Kincade fire and, most notably, the Camp fire in 2018, California’s deadliest. The Camp fire burned through 153,000 acres and killed 85 people, many of them in the town of Paradise.

The utility company filed for bankruptcy in 2019 in an effort to protect itself from the tens of billions of dollars in potential liabilities.

The same year, state lawmakers approved legislation that created a wildfire recovery fund of more than $21 billion for victims.

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