Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, along with the District Attorneys for Napa, Humboldt and Lake Counties, announced today that no criminal charges would be filed against PG&E related to the October 2017 Northern California wildfires. After an extensive review, each office determined that insufficient evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that PG&E acted with a reckless disregard for human life in causing the fires, the standard necessary to sustain criminal charges. The District Attorneys consulted with the California Attorney General’s Office during the review of the cases and prior to the decision not to file charges.
After thorough investigations, Cal Fire determined that PG&E’s equipment caused numerous wildfires in the four counties, and referred their reports to the district attorneys to review for possible filing of criminal charges. Of the fires that originated in Sonoma County, Cal Fire determined that PG&E’s equipment caused the Adobe, Norrbom, Pocket, and Pythian/Oakmont Fires, but did not cause the Nuns Fire and the Thirty-Seven Fire (along with the Tubbs Fire which originated in Napa County).
The cases that were referred for prosecution all required proof that PG&E acted with criminal negligence in failing to remove dead and dying trees. Under California law, criminal negligence requires proof of actions that are reckless and incompatible with a proper regard for human life, and any charges must be proven unanimously to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Proving PG&E failed in their duty to remove trees was made particularly difficult in this context as the locations where the fires occurred, and where physical evidence could have been located, were decimated by the fires.
PG&E remains on federal criminal probation and is a defendant in many private civil cases arising out of the wildfires seeking, among other remedies, financial compensation. Sonoma County is a party to one of the civil lawsuits.
The District Attorney’s Offices would like to thank Cal Fire for its outstanding work in battling these fires and investigating their causes.