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California utility to pay $1B settlement for wildfire damage

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June 19 (UPI) — Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has agreed to pay a $1 billion settlement to parts of Northern California for a string of wildfires blamed on the utility, including the devastating Camp Fire last year.

The settlements were announced Tuesday. The town of Paradise will receive $270 million and Butte County $252 million. Both were ground zero last summer when the Camp Fire was started by PG&E equipment. The fire, the largest in California history, killed 85 people and destroyed 13,000 homes.

The deal is part of PG&E’s bankruptcy process and requires approval by the bankruptcy judge overseeing PG&E’s finances.

“The money will help local government and taxpayers rebuild their communities after several years of devastating wildfires,” law firm Baron & Budd said. “The cities and counties will be in a better position to help their citizens rebuild and move forward.”

“Camp Fire survivors have already been through hell,” state Assemblyman James Gallagher said in a statement. “The utility has an obligation not to prolong their suffering.”

Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said the settlement is fair, and the city will hold meetings next month to discuss how to allocate the money. The town needs new roads and a sewer system, among other infrastructure.

“For me, it is a relief that we didn’t have to go through a long multiple-year trial,” Jones said. “The town of Paradise will rebuild and this is an important step toward our recovery.”

The settlements also include payouts to counties and communities affected by previous fires, including the 2017 Cascade Fire that killed four people and burned nearly 10,000 acres in Yuba County.

Regulators last month approved allowing utilities to cut electricity to customers if there’s wildfire danger. PG&E purposely cut power to the Sierra foothills earlier this month due to a threat of fire. It would be done in “truly extreme fire danger weather.”

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