District attorneys: No criminal charges against PG&E in 2017 wine country wildfires

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Pacific Gas & Electric will not face criminal charges in connection to the October 2017 Northern California wildfires that ravaged wine country, district attorneys announced on Tuesday. 

In a news release, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, along with D.A.'s for Napa, Humboldt and Lake Counties, said there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against PG&E.

"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 statement read.

The prosecutors said they consulted with the California Attorney General's Office during a review of the cases prior to their decision not to file charges.

However, upon investigation, Cal-Fire said PG&E's equipment did cause numerous wildfires in four counties and referred their findings to the district attorneys for possible criminal charges.

Cal-Fire determined that of the fires originating in Sonoma County, PG&E equipment caused the Adobe, Norrbom, Pocket, and Pythian/Oakmont fires. They did not find that the utility's equipment caused the Nuns Fire and Thirty Seven Fire (along with the Tubbs Fire, which orignated in Napa County). 

The news statement issued by Sonoma County said the cases brought before the D.A.s needed to prove that PG&E acted criminally negligent in their failure to remove dead and dying trees. 

"Proving PG&E failed in their duty to remove trees was made particularly difficult in this context as the location where the fires occurred, and were physical evidence could have been located, were decimated by the fires," the statement read. 

PG&E remains on federal criminal probation and is also a defendent in many private civil cases that arose from the wildfires. Litigants in those cases seek financial compensation. Sonoma County acknowleges they are a party in one of those lawsuits. 

Wildfire damage has become a multibillion-dollar liability for the utility.  In all, wildfire insurance claims in California last year neared $12.4 billion, according to the state insurance commissioner. The embattled utility filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. 

State investigators had already determined that the company's equipment was not to blame for the 2017 Tubbs Fire that killed 24 people and destroyed more than 5,600 buildings and 36,807 acres in parts of Napa, Sonoma and Lake Counties. The Tubbs Fire is the second most destructive wildfire in California history. 

Bay City News contributed to this report. Story reported from Oakland, Calif.