Feds settle with PG&E over 2004 forest fires
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California’s largest utility and two tree-trimming subcontractors have agreed to pay nearly $30 million to settle federal lawsuits over the cause of wildfires in two national forests, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers said Thursday.
Federal prosecutors filed the lawsuits after the 2004 fires. One burned 7,700 acres in the Eldorado National Forest in El Dorado County, while the other burned 3,300 acres across the Six Rivers and Shasta-Trinity national forests in Trinity County.
The blazes scorched the forests, but there were no reports of structures being damaged or destroyed.
Federal officials sued the San Francisco-based utility, blaming the fires on power lines.
Ehlers said PG&E will pay $6.1 million, while the remaining $23.4 million will be paid by subcontractors that were hired to trim trees around the utility’s power lines.
Western Environmental Consultants Inc. will pay $17.5 million to cover damage from the Trinity County fire in far Northern California. Davey Tree Surgery Co. will pay $5.9 million for its role in the El Dorado County fire, which was near Kyburz, a mountain community between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe.
“Since the incidents eight years ago, we’ve made significant changes in our vegetation management program,” Ehlers said. “It’s showing progress.”
She could not say what changes had been made or whether there have been fewer fires or less damage as a result. Telephone messages left with the two subcontractors were not immediately returned Thursday.
Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman with the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento, confirmed the settlement but would not comment before an afternoon news conference.