PG&E Accused of Disposing of North Bay Wildfire Evidence

Nearly a decade after the San Bruno gas explosion triggered PG&E’s conviction for obstructing a federal investigation, state regulators have filed documents accusing the company of two dozen safety violations and the disposal of evidence in the North Bay wildfires.

In a summary of investigative findings related to 15 of the October 2017 fires, the safety arm of the California Public Utilities Commission found the company violated more than two dozen of its safety rules – and found evidence its practices jeopardize public safety.

The violations alleged against the utility range from failing to cut clearly hazardous trees near powerlines to record-keeping breakdowns to two cases of alleged "evidence disposal."

While regulators do not spell out the specifics, documents state they "found violations regarding work orders completed late, a work order not completed although the record indicated completion, missing inspection records, disposal of evidence, and conductor-to-conductor [wire to wire] contact."

They concluded "These violations may indicate poor record-keeping and other practices that present a risk to public safety."

In the massive Atlas fire in Napa county, the company stands accused of failing to identify two separate oak trees that posed a clear hazard before the fire that burned more than 50,000 acres and caused six deaths.

In the Nuns fire that hit Napa, the company stands accused of "improper prioritization and delay" in dealing with a limb conflicting with a power line in Glen Ellen that sparked a fire that left three dead.

In the 130 acre Point fire in Calaveras county and in the 2,200 acre Sulfur fire in Lake county, regulators alleged unspecified evidence disposal.

In all, 44 died in the collective firestorm that triggered the regulatory allegations lodged Thursday. State Sen. Jerry Hill, a strong critic of PG&E, says the latest findings are reminiscent of what regulators found in their probe of the 2010 San Bruno blast. Regulators alleged shoddy record-keeping, safety shortcuts and evidence destruction and eventually imposed a $1.6 billion penalty over the fire that left eight dead and destroyed the Crestmoor neighborhood. Separately, PG&E was convicted in federal court of obstructing the National Transportation Safety Board’s probe into the blast.

"I don’t know what we’re going to have to see for something to change," Hill said. "It looks like in almost ten years, they still didn’t learn anything – it’s the exact same problem that we saw before."

In a statement, PG&E said it is "carefully reviewing" the regulatory case as it prepares for fire season and deals with its bankruptcy.

"We understand and recognize the CPUC’s concerns and acknowledge that while we have implemented significant additional wildfire mitigation measures following the devastating 2017 and 2018 wildfires, there is still more work to do and we are committed to doing it the right way."

Hill says he’s still nervous about the current fire season.

"Unless there’s some major changes happening between last year and today, we’ll see more fires," he said, adding, "I’m hoping, and praying that they got the point and now they are doing the job appropriately. Not just talking about it, but actually doing it and providing a safer infrastructure."

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