Shasta and Tehama counties sued PG&E Thursday, alleging the company’s negligence was to blame for the Zogg Fire in September. The counties are seeking costs for firefighting and restoration.
John Fiske, one of the attorneys in the suit, says PG&E recently acknowledged to a federal judge that its contractor had marked two trees for removal in 2018 as a hazard to its powerline, but neither had been taken down at the time a diseased tree fell onto that line. The ensuing fire left four people dead.
“Despite having previously identified the tree for removal, the work was clearly never done and thus, could have been a relatively nominal measure taken that prevented the Zogg fire altogether,” the suit alleges.
While Cal Fire has yet to say whether it was a PG&E tree that sparked the fire, it has seized the remains of several trees in the area.
“It’s a case of clear negligence,” Fiske said, “if it turns out that the tree that they previously identified to be removed, was not removed.”
Former public utilities commissioner Catherine Sandoval says the root of the problem is the company failed to use the latest electronic monitoring technology to track the status of hazard trees. She says the company currently relies on stamped metal tags when it could easily deploy sensors to alert managers that trees earmarked for removal are still standing.
“It’s crazy-bad management,” she said. “It’s a management problem that is layered on their inability to get a handle on the data and really their lack of treating this seriously.”
For Fiske, the case is simple. “There is really not going to be, in our minds, any excuse for not maintaining its lines,” he said.
PG&E has said that it has yet to definitively determine whether one of the trees that its contractor had called for removal was in fact to blame for the fire.
“We recognize the impact that the tragic loss of life and devastation of the Zogg Fire has had on this community,” the company said in a statement.
“While we are cooperating fully with CAL FIRE, we do not have access to the equipment that was taken by CAL FIRE investigators. We remain focused on reducing wildfire risk across our service area and making our electric system more resilient to the climate-driven challenges we all face in California.”