California's PG&E to avoid criminal charges in settlements over two major wildfires

April 11 (Reuters) - California utility PG&E Corp (PCG.N) has reached settlement agreements with district attorneys representing Northern California counties to avoid prosecution over two major wildfires, with the company agreeing to pay $55 million.

"As a result of these agreements, no criminal charges will be filed in the Dixie Fire (2021), and the criminal complaint regarding the Kincade Fire (2019) will be dismissed," the company said in a statement on Monday.

The financial commitments within the agreements total $55 million over five years, and PG&E will not seek recovery of these costs from customers, it added.

PG&E did not admit wrongdoing in the settlements reached with prosecutors for the 2021 Dixie Fire and the 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County.

The Dixie fire, ranked as the second-largest California wildfire on record, scorched through Northern California communities and forests in August, forcing thousands to flee from their homes and prompted precautionary power shutdowns. PG&E had said the blaze may have started when a tree fell onto one of the utility's power cables. read more

The Kincade wildfire in California's wine country in 2019 that forced some 2,000 people to flee homes was caused by PG&E's electrical transmission lines, the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said in 2020.

PG&E entered agreements with Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta, Sonoma and Tehama counties to strengthen wildfire safety and response programs and to work with local organizations affected by the fires to help rebuild impacted communities, the company said on Monday.

The utility emerged from bankruptcy in 2020. It had sought protection from creditors after wildfires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018 drove the utility's potential liabilities into tens of billions of dollars.

Late last year, PG&E said it had received a subpoena from the U.S. attorney's office seeking documents from the Californian utility related to the Dixie Fire.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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Kanishka Singh is a breaking news reporter for Reuters in Washington DC, who primarily covers US politics and national affairs in his current role. His past breaking news coverage has spanned across a range of topics like the Black Lives Matter movement; the US elections; the 2021 Capitol riots and their follow up probes; the Brexit deal; US-China trade tensions; the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan; the COVID-19 pandemic; and a 2019 Supreme Court verdict on a religious dispute site in his native India.