PG&E slapped with more lawsuits amid North Bay inferno probes

Mercury News

SAN FRANCISCO — PG&E was jolted Tuesday by a fresh round of lawsuits from former San Francisco mayor Frank Jordan and other victims of the lethal North Bay infernos, alleging the utility had put profits before public safety.

The October wildfires in the Wine Country and nearby areas killed 43 people and torched at least 245,000 acres in six counties.

Jordan, along with his wife and guests, fled their Santa Rosa home, managing to grab only a handful of commemorative photographs before escaping the flames. The blaze destroyed their house, guesthouse and personal belongings.

PG&E has said it is cooperating with investigators from Cal Fire and the state Public Utilities Commission. The investigators have not yet determined what caused the fires.

The lawsuits allege, however, that PG&E disregarded mandatory safety practices and foreseeable hazardous risks associated with the utility’s infrastructure by failing to identify, inspect, manage and control vegetation growth near its power lines and other electrical equipment.

“This calamity was preventable,” Frank Pitre, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the new litigation, said Tuesday while announcing the lawsuits.

The attorneys said they and their clients don’t want to wait for the outcome of probes by the PUC, CalFire and PG&E to determine what caused the fires.

“We are tired of the cloud of secrecy that covers everything PG&E does,” Pitre said. “The only way we can get behind the cloud, the curtain, the veil of secrecy is to file these lawsuits. We want to draw our own conclusions to get to the truth.”

The utility acknowledged the new litigation Tuesday.

“We are aware that lawsuits have been filed,” PG&E spokesman Donald Cutler said. “There has been no determination on the causes of the fires.”

The lawsuits address the alleged use of reclosers — equipment that can automatically restart power in lines after a service interruption. If electricity pulses are sent through lines that are in contact with trees or other vegetation, that can set off a fire. PG&E is alleged to have been operating numerous reclosers during the time of the North Bay fires, although the precise locations of this equipment weren’t immediately clear. Some of PG&E’s devices were programmed to try up to three times to restore power by sparking electricity, the litigation claims.

“PG&E knew that its reclosers posed a great risk of wildfire,” one of the lawsuits alleges. “At a congressional hearing in 2015, PG&E’s senior vice president of electrical operations, Patrick Hogan, stated that PG&E had the ability to reprogram its reclosers during fire season to not restart power. Hogan claimed that shutting down power means ‘you take the reliability hit, but you gain the wildfire benefit.’ Despite this knowledge and ability, PG&E never reprogrammed all of its reclosers to prevent wildfires,” the complaint alleged...  (To read the entire article, please click HERE)


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