Pacific Gas & Electric said Thursday that its equipment had probably caused the Camp Fire, the catastrophic November blaze that destroyed thousands of homes in Paradise, Calif., and killed at least 86 people.
PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January, said it had recorded a $10.5 billion charge in anticipation of damage claims for that fire, the deadliest in state history. Largely as a result, the company reported a $6.9 billion loss for 2018.
Though the cause of the fire is still under official investigation by California officials, PG&E said it “believes it is probable that its equipment will be determined to be an ignition point of the 2018 Camp Fire.” Attempts to determine the fire’s cause center on the 56-mile Caribou-Palermo electric transmission line.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has said the fire started at 6:33 a.m. on Nov. 8 near a tower on that line. PG&E said that its line de-energized at 6:15 a.m., adding that 15 minutes later an employee observed a fire near the tower. Later that day, utility workers discovered that a part had separated from an arm on the tower, the company said.
In its report on Thursday, PG&E said the Caribou-Palermo line was not being used because the company needs to repair or replace equipment on the line.
PG&E, which serves about 16 million people in central and Northern California, has been criticized by lawmakers, consumer groups and others for not doing enough to reduce the risk of fires started by its network of transmission lines and conductors. In addition to its Camp Fire expense, PG&E recorded a $1 billion charge for liability from wildfires in 2017.
On Thursday, the company said it was stepping up equipment inspections in areas that regulators have identified as having a high fire risk.
“We recognize that more must be done to adapt to and address the increasing threat of wildfires and extreme weather in order to keep our customers and communities safe,” John Simon, PG&E’s interim chief executive, said in a statement.
PG&E said its bankruptcy filing was meant to protect it from becoming overwhelmed by its wildfire liabilities. But some investors said PG&E did not need bankruptcy protection because it earned enough money to pay the wildfire claims as they came due. PG&E’s shares, which have more than doubled in recent weeks, were down more than 1 percent at noon on Thursday.