PG&E assessed $125 million in fines and penalties for starting the 2019 Kincade Fire

The blaze burned more than 77,000 acres, destroyed 374 structures, and caused the evacuation of about 185,000 residents north of Santa Rosa, California

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Kincade Fire 9:06 a.m. PDT Oct. 27, 2019
The Kincade Fire as seen from the St. Helena North camera at 9:06 a.m. PDT Oct. 27, 2019. Looking toward Healdsburg.

The California Public Utilities Commission has penalized Pacific Gas and Electric $125 million for violations related to the 2019 Kincade Fire that burned more than 77,000 acres and caused the evacuation of about 185,000 residents north of Santa Rosa, California.

The fire started October 23 northeast of Geyserville, California and destroyed 374 structures.

The settlement agreed to last week requires that PG&E shareholders pay a $40 million fine to the state. The company will also not raise rates to cover the $85 million cost for permanent removal of abandoned transmission facilities, bringing the total fines and penalties to $125 million.

The company was charged with five felonies and 28 misdemeanors, including “unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in great bodily injury, unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in the burning of inhabited structures, and unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in the burning of forest land, as well as various air pollution crimes,” according to the District Attorney’s office.

Investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection sent a report to the District Attorney’s office in July of 2020 which concluded PG&E’s equipment was at fault.

On October 24, 2019 PG&E filed a required preliminary report with the California Public Utilities Commission that stated “at approximately (9:20 p.m.) on Oct. 23, PG&E became aware of a Transmission level outage on the Geysers No. 9 Lakeville 230kV line when the line relayed and did not reclose. At approximately (7:30 a.m.) on Oct. 24, a responding PG&E Troubleman patrolling the Geysers No. 9 Lakeville 230 kV line observed that CalFire had taped off the area around the base of transmission tower 001/006. On site CalFire personnel brought to the Troubleman’s attention what appeared to be a broken jumper on the same tower.”

jumper cable high voltage electrical transmission tower
File photo of a jumper cable on a high voltage electrical transmission tower.

PG&E told a judge on November 29, 2019 that it was investigating whether there was a systemic problem with a piece of hardware on their high voltage electrical transmission towers that can start wildfires, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Investigators with PG&E and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection were looking at the possible failure of jumper cables on towers near the points of origin of two huge recent fires, the 2017 Camp Fire at Paradise, California and the Kincade Fire.

map kincade fire California wildfire
Map showing in red the perimeter of the Kincade Fire at 12:49 a.m. PDT October 29, 2019. The white line was the approximate perimeter about 24 hours before.

Investigators determined that PG&E equipment started other fires in recent years. The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reported that investigators attributed more than 1,500 fires to PG&E power lines and hardware between June 2014 and December 2017. CAL FIRE attributed 12 large fires that started on October 8 and 9, 2017 to PG&E power equipment.

We constructed a list of 18 of the larger fires linked to PG&E equipment.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

6 thoughts on “PG&E assessed $125 million in fines and penalties for starting the 2019 Kincade Fire”

  1. Doesn’t this mean that the victims of the Camp Fire , who are shareholders now because of the FireVictims Trust settlement are paying some of the fines for the Kinkade Fire? Just wondered

  2. Local news reports said that the fire was caused by a failed jumper on a transmission line from an abandoned geothermal generator that hadn’t been used in YEARS. Which is why PG&E will have to spend 85 million dollars to remove abandoned transmission equipment, “The company will also not raise rates to cover the $85 million cost for permanent removal of abandoned transmission facilities…”.

    PG&E had shut off the distribution lines in the entire area due to a wind event but had left the transmission lines from their geothermal plants energized to make money. PG&E had left an abandoned 230kv transmission line energized for years.

  3. The headline should actually read “PG&E customers assessed $125 million” because PG&E isn’t going to pay the fine, the ratepayers are going to pay the fine.

  4. Exactly….just like Texas not planning for storms and infrastructure…we are all paying for electric and natural gas prices

  5. You cannot blame them for passing on cost, they are not in the business to lose money, many of these fires have caused great harm and damage, but they are not to blame 100%. A great many things factor into the destructive nature of these fires, much more than I could express here.

    There may come a time that the liability to supply (Parts) Calif power is to great and they get out of the business, the only way to solve this is to go underground…..very-very expensive, they have begun to go underground in high exposure areas of my state. eventually they will make their money back, but we are not CA, we have hundreds of miles to worry about, not thousands.

  6. But didn’t the Supreme Court rule that “Corporations are people?” If I started a wildfire and got caught, the costs would be borne by me, not “the people.”

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