Prosecutors say California utility company PG&E could face murder charges for wildfires

By Ellen Cranley

California prosecutors are poised to charge the state's largest utility company with an array of crimes, including murder and manslaughter if it is found responsible for starting two recent deadly wildfires.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a new filing that if Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which provides electricity to about 16 million customers, was found to have mismanaged or failed to maintain power lines, it would face a wide range of charges.

Prosecutors wrote they were prepared to pursue a wide range of charges, including minor offenses, felonies or misdemeanors, and implied-malice murder and involuntary manslaughter.

In a statement responding to the filing, the company said it was dedicated to assessing its systems and looks forward to recovery from the deadly wildfires.

"PG&E's most important responsibility is public and workforce safety. Our focus continues to be on assessing our infrastructure to further enhance safety and helping our customers continue to recover and rebuild," a spokesman told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The filing is the latest in a long legal battle concerning the company that has been overseen by US District Judge William Alsup who asked last month that the utility company explain whether "reckless operation or maintenance of PG&E power lines" sparked any wildfires.

The company was found responsible for 17 fires last year, and in 11 instances investigators found agents had failed to comply with guidelines for installing power lines around vegetation, one of the charges mentioned in the new filing.

The company has until December 31 to submit its written answers to Alsup's questions.

The cause of the Camp Fire, which broke out November 8 and killed at least 85 people, is still under investigation.

Read more:10 photos show the grim reality for evacuees of California's wildfires

The Camp Fire ravaged Northern California for over two weeks, initially growing at a speed of 80 football fields a minute and leveling the 27,000-person town of Paradise, California.

The flames from the other deadly fire, the Woolsey fire, burned 96,949 acres and killed three people.