PG&E officials reach $117 million settlement over California wildfires

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FILE PHOTO: Handout photo of an aerial photo of the devastation left behind from the North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) -A $117 million settlement has been reached with former PG&E Corp executives and directors who were accused in a lawsuit of lax oversight of the utility’s safety measures prior to the 2017 North Bay and 2018 Camp fires, two of California’s most destructive wildfires.

The settlement was announced on Thursday by the PG&E Fire Victim Trust, which compensates victims of fires that the parent of Pacific Gas & Electric started between 2015 and 2018.

Frank Pitre, a lawyer for the trust, in a statement said the settlement was among the largest of its type, and that money will be used to pay the “vast majority” of claims held by federal agencies that helped battle the fires.

PG&E assigned the trust the right to pursue claims against the executives and directors when the utility emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020.

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More than 48,800 fire victims have already received $4.91 billion in payments. Insurers often cover settlement payments by corporate officers and directors.

In a statement, PG&E called the settlement a “step forward” in its effort to resolve issues predating its January 2019 bankruptcy.

The North Bay fires, sometimes called the Wine Country fires, broke out in October 2017 in Napa, Sonoma and nearby counties. They caused at least 44 deaths, burned more than 245,000 acres (990 sq km), and damaged or destroyed many wineries.

Thirteen months later, the upstate Camp Fire killed 85 people, burned more than 153,000 acres, and destroyed most of Paradise, California, a town that had about 26,000 people. It remains the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire.

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The trust said the North Bay Fires could have been prevented had PG&E cut off power sooner, while the Camp Fire was caused by PG&E’s failure to inspect and maintain its aging equipment and infrastructure.

Pitre said the bankruptcy court requires that some settlements be used to satisfy federal agency claims.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy)

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