The Latest: Experts: PG&E bankruptcy still likely

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on the cause of a 2017 California wildfire that killed 22 people (all times local):

4:50 p.m.

Legal experts say a determination that Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. equipment was not to blame for a deadly 2017 California wildfire will probably not stop the utility from going ahead with its planned bankruptcy.

The company still faces billions of dollars in potential damages from other wildfires, including a 2018 blaze that took at least 86 lives and became the worst in the state’s history. Bankruptcy would also give the company space to formulate a plan to prevent its equipment from causing more catastrophic fires in the future.

Investigators said Thursday that the October 2017 wildfire that killed 22 people in California’s wine country was caused by a private electrical system, not equipment belonging to PG&E.


4:15 p.m.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says more than half of the debt PG&E says it might owe stems from a fire that investigators said Thursday the utility did not cause, putting its bankruptcy plans into doubt.

State fire investigators released a report saying that the deadly 2017 Tubbs Fire that scorched Napa and Sonoma counties was caused by privately maintained electric lines.

The newly elected Democrat said his office estimates that $17 billion of the $30 billion Pacific Gas & Electric estimates as potential liabilities from wildfire-related lawsuits in 2017 and 2018 was due to the Tubbs Fire.

The utility company said in response to Newsom’s math that it still faces extensive litigation.

Newsom said the issue is likely far from settled legally and that he’s asked the newly appointed Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery to speed up its recommendations.


1:40 p.m.

Northern California’s major electricity and natural gas provider says it’s still in deep trouble despite being cleared of causing a 2017 wine country fire that killed 22 people.

State investigators on Thursday said the Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties was started by electrical equipment at a private residence in the Napa Valley and not by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Company spokesman James Noonan says in a statement that PG&E still faces numerous lawsuits, significant potential damages and a deteriorating financial situation because of the fires that torched California in 2017 and 2018.

The company says it plans to declare bankruptcy after it was blamed for causing numerous other fires that killed scores of people and destroyed thousands of homes. It says it faces at least $30 billion in potential damages.


1:15 p.m.

A Northern California state senator said that just because a private electric line caused one of the deadliest wildfires in state history does not let Pacific Gas & Electric off the hook for its role in other devastating fires in the state.

California officials said Thursday that a private electric line was responsible for a 2017 blaze in wine country that killed 22 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat, said the finding doesn’t negate the systemwide issues plaguing California’s largest utility.

PG&E previously said it plans to file for bankruptcy protection because it faces at least $30 billion in potential damages from lawsuits involving the possible role of its equipment in catastrophic wildfires in California in the past two years.

PG&E did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


12:45 p.m.

Investigators say a deadly 2017 wildfire that killed 22 people in Northern California wine country was caused by a private electrical system, not equipment of embattled Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The state’s firefighting agency said Thursday that the fire started next to a residence. The agency did not find any violations of state law.

The fire was one of more than 170 fires that torched the state in October 2017. It destroyed more than 5,600 structures over more than 57 square miles (148 sq. kilometers) in Sonoma County.

The cause came as a relief to PG&E, which plans to file for bankruptcy protection next week, citing billions of potential damages from other deadly and destructive wildfires.

CalFire did not immediately release its full fire cause report.