California blames 2017 fire on private system; PG&E shares soar

FILE PHOTO – Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) workers inspect a gas line at a home destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

(Reuters) – The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on Thursday said it had determined that the 2017 Tubbs Fire was caused by a private electrical system close to a residential structure, effectively clearing embattled electric utility PG&E Corp of liability for the deadly blaze.

“CAL FIRE investigators did not identify any violations of state law, Public Resources Code, related to the cause of this fire,” Cal Fire said in a statement that did not mention PG&E directly.

Shares of PG&E, which has stated that it did not expect to be found liable for the Tubbs Fire in Northern California, were up about 80 percent at $14.40 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Tubbs Fire ignited on Oct. 8, 2017, and burned 36,807 acres from Napa County to suburban Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, killing 22 people and injuring one firefighter, according to CalFire. The blaze was part of a conflagration of more than 170 fires that burned 245,000 acres, CalFire said.

PG&E, which provides electricity and natural gas to 16 million customers in northern and central California, faces widespread litigation, government investigations and liabilities that could potentially exceed $30 billion because of wildfires in the state in 2017 and 2018.

PG&E has said it is preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Reporting by Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar and Leslie Adler

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