Profits over safety: Utility blamed in fire that killed 85
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A devastating report by the grand jury, released Tuesday after a Northern California forest fire in 2018 that killed 85 people, revealed that Pacific Gas & Electric officials repeatedly ignored power failure warnings, conducted inadequate inspections, to focus on profits and refused to learn from past catastrophes.
PG&E showed "a stubborn disregard" of residents' lives and property before its equipment lit the most destructive wildfire in recent US history, the Grand Jury said in a summary. Investigators concluded that the main cause of the fire was an almost 100-year-old hanging hook that failed and had been worn out in a windy canyon for decades.
"With a corporate culture that increases safety gains through shortcuts in the safe delivery of an extremely dangerous product - high-voltage electricity - PG&E is otherwise leading good people on an ultimately destructive path," said 92, published on Tuesday -page summary.
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In response, the country's largest utility pleaded guilty to the Butte County Supreme Court on Tuesday for having committed 84 crimes for involuntary manslaughter. The company believes that it particularly appreciates public safety.
Prosecutors said they talked about the charge against utilities, but decided they lacked evidence, which means that nobody can be arrested for the crimes. Instead, PG&E pays a maximum fine of $ 3.5 million and $ 500,000 to cover the district's costs of the criminal investigation.
The fire was the most destructive forest fire in the United States in a century, destroying more than 18,000 homes and other buildings, primarily in the city of Paradise, approximately 275 kilometers northeast of San Francisco. Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey accused 84 deaths and said he could not prove the benefits had caused one of the deaths.
Most of those who died were elderly or disabled - the oldest 99 and the youngest 20. Their remains were found in showers and bath tubs, clutching a loved photo, cuddling pets, trapped in getaway cars, and even seeking safety under a vehicle.
TK Huff from the nearby town of Concow was found in front of his house, 3 meters from his wheelchair. There is evidence that the 71-year-old tried to pull away to escape the fire.
Three generations of the Heffern family - Christina, Ishka and Matilde - called 911 when the fire raced towards their paradise home and helplessly "dispatchers listened to their screams while the telephone line was still open".
The Camp Fire Public Report paints a damned picture of PG&E as a unit that has been regularly accountable and shameless because it was unwilling to learn from past mistakes. The San Francisco-based utility was convicted of several federal crimes in 2016 after one of its gas transmission lines in the San Bruno suburb of San Francisco exploded and eight people died.
The fire in paradise called the campfire broke out early in the morning in dry, gusty weather. It was unlike anything firefighters had seen before. Whipped by violent winds, it emitted softball-sized embers in all directions and held the residents in firewalls.
Investigators found the cause of the main fire was a C-hook on a transmission tower that had been blown after decades in the Feather River Canyon. The report states that PG&E would have known if it had taken the trouble to inventory the hook, perform thorough inspections with qualified inspectors, or even listen to its own employees. However, the report states that the line inspections were designed to identify no defects.
PG&E acquired the transmission line from the Great Western Power Company in 1930 and underwent minimal maintenance and repairs despite the realization that it was likely to be at the end of its life.
“In essence, PG & E blindly bought a used car in 1930. PG&E drove this car until it fell apart, "the report said." A sensible person has common sense to know that service and maintenance become more important as the car ages and miles increase. "
"Catastrophic failure ... wasn't an if question. It was a when question. "
In 2007, a PG&E engineer requested $ 800,000 to replace a section of the Caribou-Palermo line and wrote about "multi-wire failures" due to aging equipment. The engineer noted that "the likelihood of this failure is imminent due to the age of both the towers and the ladder."
Utilities provided $ 200,000 for the project, but the work was discarded in 2009 and against the project manager's concerns that we could "get these towers out of the Feather River Canyon if they fall over" without upgrades.
In December 2012, a transmission tower collapsed on the route, pulled down four more towers and damaged a fifth. A PG&E engineer recommended that the other towers be inspected, which "was inconsistent with PG&E's practice of not pursuing clearly identified potential safety and / or maintenance issues," the report said.
Prosecutors found that the Caribou-Palermo line inspections and patrols were hastily carried out by inexperienced, untrained, and unskilled "troublemakers". The company also routinely put money on repairs into its capital budget so it can pass the costs on to consumers rather than shareholders, the grand jury said.
Despite the probation, which meant that the company was not allowed to commit another crime, the investigators said that its negligence had led to several forest fires in recent years.
Although PG&E recognizes that after years of neglecting its equipment, it still has a lot of catching up to do, its power grid is far less dangerous than it was before the fire in Paradise. By order of a judge, the company has spent over $ 1 billion to cut 1.3 million trees near its power lines and conduct extensive inspections for potential trouble spots. PG&E has estimated another $ 1.3 billion this year.
"We are focusing intensively on reducing the risk of forest fires in our communities," promised PG&E CEO Bill Johnson after pleading guilty on behalf of the utility on Tuesday.
Associated press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Olga R. Rodriguez and Juliet Williams in San Francisco and Michael Liedtke in San Ramon, California also contributed to this report.
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