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News: Top Stories

PG&E outlook ominous if utility is found responsible for California's worst wildfire

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 11/14/2018 By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Los Angeles Times
a sunset over a fire: Outside of Pulga, Calif., on the North Fork of the Feather River, the Camp Fire continues to burn on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. It has already burned more than 200,000 square miles. The Woosley Fire has claimed the most lives, and is inching in on destruction of acreage as the deadliest and worst fire California has seen in human history. From the start of the destructive fire, firefighters struggled to contrain the flames.This blaze came on the heels of one of the hottest summers on record for the region, after years of drought that left the woodlands in the Santa Monica Mountains bone dry. Once the Santa Ana winds began blowing more as the night went on, combined with low visibility from the smoke, limited the reach of aerial attacks. © Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS Outside of Pulga, Calif., on the North Fork of the Feather River, the Camp Fire continues to burn on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. It has already burned more than 200,000 square miles. The Woosley Fire has claimed the most lives, and is inching in on destruction of acreage as the deadliest and worst fire California has seen in human history. From the start of the destructive fire, firefighters struggled to contrain the flames.This blaze came on the heels of one of the hottest summers on record for the region, after years of drought that left the woodlands in the Santa Monica Mountains bone dry. Once the Santa Ana winds began blowing more as the night went on, combined with low visibility from the smoke, limited the reach of aerial attacks.

Northern California utility Pacific Gas and Electric said Wednesday that if it is deemed responsible for the fire that destroyed much of Paradise, the liability would exceed its insurance coverage.

The cause of California's most destructive and deadly wildfire has not yet been determined. But PG&E said a transmission line in the area went offline 15 minutes before the fire was first reported, and the company found a damaged transmission tower near where investigators said the fire began.

The fire has killed at least 48 people and destroyed more than 7,000 homes.

In a corporate filing Wednesday, PG&E said that if its equipment caused the fire, it "would be expected to have a material impact on PG&E Corporation's and the Utility's financial condition, results of operations, liquidity, and cash flows."

Since the fire began last Thursday, PG&E stock has lost half its value.

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Some who lost homes in Paradise have already sued PG&E, accusing the utility of negligence and blaming it for the fire.

The financial costs of the fire are expected to be staggering.

After destructive fires swept through wine country last year, PG&E faced similar liability questions. Wall Street estimates that the utility faces up to $15 billion in liabilities from those fires, which also burned thousands of homes. It has raised the possibility of bankruptcy if it cannot get some relief.

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Investigators already have linked PG&E lines to some October fires, including the Atlas fire that killed six people and destroyed 400 homes, and the Redwood Valley fire that killed nine and destroyed 500 structures. Officials continue to investigate the cause of the largest of the wine country fires, the Tubbs fire, which swept into Santa Rosa.

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