REDDING, Calif. - A Shasta County judge on Wednesday dismissed all criminal charges against Pacific Gas & Electric for its role in the Zogg Fire and the utility will pay $50 million in a civil settlement, KCRA reported.
PG&E has agreed to pay $45 million to support organizations that continue the rebuilding and assistance of those impacted by the fire.
It has also agreed to a $5 million penalty to be directed to Shasta County.
The ruling comes after a tentative court order that found no evidence that multiple inspections of the area fell below industry standards, according to the TV station.
"The People have failed to identify a standard of care… and have failed to establish that any of the various inspections failed to abide by the standard," the judge wrote in his tentative ruling, obtained by KCRA.
The judge said that the prosecutors' argument relies almost exclusively on evidence "learned about the tree after the fact and the fire resulting from the power lines being dropped due to the fall of the tree."
Therefore, the judge concluded, "any evidence supporting this hypothetical deviation does not raise to the level of a gross deviation as to make the conduct criminal."
The Zogg Fire broke out in 2020, killing four people and burning more than 56,000 acres in Shasta County.
Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said at the time that she had proof to show that the Zogg Fire started with a tree that PG&E should have removed in 2018, but had been left in place.
The tree's trunk had significant physical defects from a grapevine and the gray pine ultimately fell on an electrical line during a windstorm on Sept. 27, 2020, she contended. Bridgett is not pleased with the judge's ruling.
"This decision has severely limited our ability to accomplish the goal that we wanted through criminal prosecution," Bridgett said.
Consumer advocates are also not pleased with the ruling.
"PG&E, one again, was not held accountable for its actions," said Mark Toney, director of The Utility Reform Network.
CalFire also determined the Zogg fire was caused by a tree falling on a PG&E distribution line.
However, the utility has consistently said since the beginning that it did not commit a crime.
"The agreement reflects our continuing commitment to making it right and making it safe. We stand behind our thousands of trained and experienced coworkers and contractors working every day to keep Californians safe. We feel strongly that those good-faith judgments are not criminal," said Patti Poppe, PG&E's chief executive officer. "I’m grateful that the Shasta County District Attorney has agreed to work with us to make her community safer, and we look forward to the relationship this agreement creates."
The latest developments come after a separate $150 million settlement was approved between PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission earlier this month.