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PG&E to blame for more wine country fires, Cal Fire says

‘Every house is gone and the school is all that’s left,’ says Sonoma schools leader

Northern California’s Oct. 8 wildfires were among the most destructive in U.S. history, and in Sonoma County, they uprooted an entire school system.
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Northern California’s Oct. 8 wildfires were among the most destructive in U.S. history, and in Sonoma County, they uprooted an entire school system.

Cal Fire on Friday blamed PG&E for 12 more of the fires that overwhelmed Northern California's wine country last October, citing the utility's power lines and poles and increasing PG&E's potential financial peril over the deadly fires.

The report came two weeks after Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which is lobbying state lawmakers for relief from financial responsibility for the fires, was blamed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection for three other fires last October in Nevada and Butte counties.

However, Cal Fire's investigators still haven't weighed in on the deadliest of the wine country wildfires, the Tubbs Fire, which started in Calistoga and swept into Santa Rosa. The Tubbs Fire destroyed more than 5,000 homes and other buildings and killed 24 people, accounting for more than half of the 44 people killed in last October's fires.

Cal Fire has determined that most of the fires were caused by tree limbs brushing up against PG&E power lines. PG&E, however, has declined to acknowledge that it's been at fault.

"Based on the information we have so far, we continue to believe our overall programs met our state's high standards (for fire safety)," PG&E said in a prepared statement.

The wine country fires caused $9.4 billion in property damage, making them the costliest fires in California history. PG&E is already facing a slew of private lawsuits. It has told shareholders that its liability could exceed the $800 million in insurance coverage it has for wildfires, and it took the unusual step last December of suspending its $1 billion-a-year shareholder dividends.

At the same time, PG&E has been trying to convince legislators to reduce its liability related to wildfires. The company and others are arguing that the deadly 2017 wildfire season was the result of climate change, and utilities should not pay the price for Mother Nature's "new normal."

The latest report by Cal Fire points blame at PG&E for the following fires: Redwood in Mendocino County, Sulphur in Lake County, Cherokee in Butte County, Blue in Humboldt County, 37 and Pocket in Sonoma County and Atlas in Napa County. Cal Fire also said PG&E's power equipment was responsible for five fires that merged into a single blaze across Sonoma and Napa counties: Norrbom, Adobe, Patrick, Pathian and Nuns.

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