PG&E to pay close to $15M in fire settlement
Pacific Gas and Electric Company has agreed to pay $14.75 million to settle the government’s claims of damages resulting from the 1999 Pendola fire in the Plumas and Tahoe National Forests.
The settlement is the second largest recovery in United States Forest Service history in a forest fire case.
“This substantial settlement reflects the value we all place on such treasures as the Tahoe and Plumas National Forests,” said Acting United States Attorney Lawrence G. Brown.
The Pendola fire started in the early morning hours of Oct. 16, 1999, on privately owned land near Pendola Ranch in Camptonville.
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A large ponderosa pine tree fell on a power distribution line owned by PG&E, and electricity shorted through it, causing the tree to ignite and drop burning embers to the ground.
The fire quickly spread to the Tahoe and Plumas National Forests, burning a total of 11,725 acres, 3,866 acres on National Forest land.
The Forest Service mobilized more than 2,500 firefighters and their equipment to fight the Pendola fire. The fire burned for 11 days before it was fully extinguished.
Fire crews successfully suppressed the fire without the loss of any life, at a cost of approximately $4.2 million. The Forest Service alleged that the tree that fell into the power line was rotten and hazardous, and PG&E or its contractors should have inspected and removed the tree, preventing the fire.
The fire caused substantial damage to National Forest Systems lands, including harm to ecological habitat and loss of timber values, and required forest restoration efforts that continue to date. More than $10 million of the settlement is to compensate the government for damages to its natural resources.
The majority of the settlement monies will go directly to the Plumas and Tahoe National Forests to help remedy the resource devastation from the fire. The settlement was reached through mediation without the necessity of a lawsuit.
“Recovering the funds needed to restore the damaged National Forests, and to compensate for the tremendous expense of fighting wildfires, without time consuming and costly litigation, is always in the public interest,” said John Cruden, acting assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“We place a very high priority on fire investigations,” said Regional Forester Randy Moore.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kendall J. Newman.
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