District Attorney Sends PG&E Search Warrant in Kincade Fire Investigation

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Photo: Bennett Dungan

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s office sent a search warrant to PG&E Wednesday seeking information as part of the county prosecutor’s ongoing investigation into the utility’s role in starting the October 2019 Kincade Fire, the company revealed in an annual financial report published today.

“On February 24, 2021, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office sent a search warrant to the Utility through its counsel in connection with the investigation [into the Utility’s role in the Kincade Fire]. The Utility expects to produce documents and respond to other requests for information in connection with the investigation and the search warrant,” a 400-page report PG&E filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) states in part.

The news comes seven months after CAL FIRE released a press release on July 16, 2020, stating that “the Kincade Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) located northeast of Geyserville. Tinder dry vegetation and strong winds combined with low humidity and warm temperatures contributed to extreme rates of fire spread.”

The Kincade Fire ignited on Oct. 23, 2019. The fire injured four first responders, burned approximately 78,000 acres, and destroyed 374 structures, including 174 homes.

The SEC report also states that PG&E entered an agreement with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office in which PG&E agreed to waive certain statutes of limitations in the case for six months.  The SEC report states that the agreement delays the expiration date of some unspecified charges from Oct. 23, 2020, to April 23, 2021.

As of Wednesday, Feb. 24, the utility and its parent company were facing 22 legal complaints related to the Kincade Fire, according the SEC report. A judge at the Sonoma County Superior Court will determine whether the cases will be considered individually or in a coordinated case, the SEC report states.

In a statement, a PG&E spokesperson said that the company has cooperated with county and state investigators following the fire.

“We received this request for information from the Sonoma County DA, are currently reviewing it, and will respond within the time requested,” the spokesperson said.

The company is conducting its own investigation into the Kincade Fire, but does not have access to the information CAL FIRE provided to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, the spokesperson added.

The search warrant was first reported by ABC 10, a Sacramento TV station, which reported on Wednesday that a PG&E vice president had acknowledge that the company’s equipment played a role in the Kincade Fire.

“We understand at a high level that our equipment was responsible for that fire,” Aaron Johnson, PG&E’s vice president for wildfire safety, reportedly said during a workshop hosted by the California Public Utilities Commission this week.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday afternoon.