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Update: Calaveras County Calling For Butte Fire Compensation

Update at 5:45 p.m.: PG&E released an initial statement (see below) noting its cooperation with CAL Fire’s investigation from the start and has now released this expanded statement countering some of the report findings:

“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims and the communities who suffered losses as a result of the Butte fire. We are committed to doing the right thing for them and to promptly resolving their claims. We have already begun to address many claims.

We want to thank CAL FIRE and all first responders for their bravery and commitment in responding to this major fire. We cooperated fully with CAL FIRE’s investigation of the fire and we appreciate the thoroughness of its report.

Based on our preliminary review, we accept the report’s finding that a tree made contact with a power line, but we do not believe it is clear what caused the tree to fail or that vegetation management practices fell short.

Effective vegetation management is critically important to fire safety and we want to reassure all of our customers and their families that we are unequivocally committed to their safety.  We monitor approximately 50 million trees a year and we trim or remove more than one million trees annually.

Our vegetation management program is among the very best in the industry and was expanded in 2014 in response to California’s historic drought to include special air and foot patrols, funding for lookout towers and cameras for early fire detection and funding for fire fuel reduction and emergency access projects and public education.

Despite these efforts, we recognize the hardships that this terrible fire caused and we are committed to helping our friends and neighbors recover.”

Original post at 3:15 p.m: Calaveras County, CA — Upon hearing the findings from Cal Fire’s Butte Fire investigation determining that “maintenance negligence” sparked the blaze, Calaveras County is following the states lead in also demanding reimbursement from PG&E for the death, damage and devastation caused by the flames.

“We are shocked and dismayed by the extent of PG&E’s negligence and will actively seek justice for Calaveras County and its citizens…We hold PG&E management and executives responsible for what happened here,” charges Cliff Edson, chair of the Calaveras County board of supervisors.

As reported here, Cal Fire investigators put the blame squarely on the company after determining that contact between a tree and a power line near Butte Mountain Road in Amador County ignited the fire in September of last year.  Along with the monetary compensation, the county is also calling for a California Public Utilities Commission Investigation, a fine, and penalties for what it calls the company’s “carelessness and negligence.”  Edison blasted the company stating, “PG&E continues to raise our citizens’ utility rates at an alarming level…but the company is also cutting risk management and safety expenditures at the same time.  What does that say about their ‘commitment to safety’?  What does PG&E have to say to the people of Calaveras County today?”

The county also claims that while the company is offering $50,000 checks to those victims without insurance…that only scratches the surface regarding the irreparable harm and PG&E’s liability.  Noting that the fire has changed residents lives and the community forever Edson rails, “Because of the fire, the County has lost—and will continue to lose—millions in tax dollars, property tax income, and other revenues because of PG&E’s fire.  Our County has been forever scarred and socially and economically damaged because PG&E executives put their profits over our citizens’ safety.”

PG&E released this statement today regarding Cal Fire’s report, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the individuals who lost their homes in the Butte fire.  We are reviewing CAL Fire’s report in its entirety.  As we’ve said since September 16, we cooperated fully with CAL FIRE in its investigation on the source of the ignition for the Butte fire.  We are committed to doing the right thing for our customers and will respond in the normal legal process. We are going to continue supporting our customers and working with our first responder partners and the State of California to improve fire safety and fire response during this historic drought.”

Not exactly the admission the county was looking for as Edson remarks, “It is PG&E’s responsibility to make this right.  We want PG&E to recognize the extent of their fault in this tragedy and pay just compensation so that Calaveras County has the best possible chance to rebuild and recover from its devastation.”