The District Attorneys for Sonoma, Napa, Humboldt, and Lake Counties will not file criminal charges against PG&E related to the October 2017 Northern California wildfires.
According to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, each office determined that there is insufficient evidence – much of it destroyed by the fire itself – to sustain the charges.
The official Cal Fire investigation had determined that PG&E’s equipment caused numerous wildfires in the four counties, and referred their reports to each DA for possible filing of criminal charges.
But making the case meant proving PG&E acted with a reckless disregard for human life in causing the fires. That standard could not be met, Ravitch and her peers decided.
The district attorneys consulted with the California Attorney General’s Office before deciding not to file charges, Ravitch said.
Under California law, criminal negligence requires proof of actions that are reckless and incompatible with a proper regard for human life, and any charges must be proven unanimously to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Proving PG&E failed in their duty to remove trees was made particularly difficult, the DAs concluded, as the locations where the fires occurred, and where physical evidence could have been located, were decimated by the fires.
In response to the decision of no criminal charges, PG&E made this statement: “The safety of our customers, employees, contractors and the communities we serve remains our highest priority. We continue to focus on helping our customers and communities in these counties continue to recover and rebuild.”
Of the fires that originated in Sonoma County, Cal Fire determined that PG&E’s equipment caused the Adobe, Norrbom, Pocket, and Pythian/Oakmont Fires, but did not cause the Nuns Fire and the Thirty Seven Fire (along with the Tubbs Fire, which originated in Napa County).
PG&E is still on federal criminal probation and is a defendant in many private civil cases arising out of the wildfires. Sonoma County remains a party to one of the civil lawsuits.