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A Northern California man whose wife and daughter died in the Zogg Fire filed a wrongful death lawsuit against PG&E, accusing the electric company of causing their deaths.
The suit alleges that PG&E failed to properly cut trees to prevent them from hitting power lines and failed to switch off the power to the circuit at the place where the fire started. Under California laws and regulations, power companies have a duty to trim and cut trees so that they don’t strike uninsulated power lines and spark wildfires.
Zach McLeod’s wife, Alaina, 46, and their daughter Feyla, 8, died when flames overtook the pickup truck they were using to escape on Sept. 27. After escaping their home, the truck had run off the road and got stuck on the wooded hillside. It burned in the fire, with Feyla and Alaina inside.
“I can’t imagine how scared they were. It’s hard to imagine how scared they were because I was not there to get them out of this,” McLeod told ABC10. He had been using the family car to buy groceries. When he spotted the plume of smoke up near his house, he rushed back. He tried calling, but the phone lines were already down.
As he approached his house, McLeod ran into a wall of fire on the road where his family lived. The rescuers told him everyone had made it out safely. But as the hours passed, his wife never picked up her phone.
In the coming days, the coroner identified the bodies found in the truck, which was owned by McLeod’s landlord, who had lent Alaina the car. The Zogg Fire killed two other people as well. Soon thereafter, Cal Fire’s arson investigators seized parts of a PG&E power line and sections of a nearby pine tree as evidence.
In an email cited by ABC10, PG&E spokesperson Lynsey Paulo wrote: “We recognize the impact that the tragic loss of life and devastation of the Zogg Fire has had on this community. We remain focused on reducing wildfire risk across our service area.”
According to U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company is already a two-time felon, a “recalcitrant criminal” that “deserves to be in prison.” And while corporations can’t go to prison, just a few months before the Zogg Fire PG&E pleaded guilty to crimes punishable by 90 years behind bars: 84 felony counts of manslaughter and one more felony for illegally sparking the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise.
PG&E paid the same maximum fine a person would face, $3.5 million. But prosecutors in Butte County said they wanted the public to know PG&E committed crimes and also put the company on notice. According to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, by doing this, PG&E can be charged with murder.
The Zogg Fire calls into question the methods that PG&E uses to make life-and-death decisions about where to shut off power during windstorms. The company admitted that the model it uses to decide where to shut off power “is not based on the extent to which vegetation had been cleared or trimmed” and “did not take into account the difficulty or ease with which residents would be able to evacuate on short notice in the event of a wildfire.”
The decision on whether to pursue criminal charges against PG&E for the Zogg Fire could take months. McLeod’s attorney reportedly said: “There is nothing anyone can do to bring them back. Nothing. No comfort is coming from this nightmare. Zach McLeod’s driving passion is to do all he can to see that PG&E never does this to anyone else again.”
As previously reported, PG&E began accepting claims for compensation from victims of three Northern California wildfires: the Butte Fire (2015), North Bay Fires (2017) and Camp Fire (2018). Fire survivors were promised approximately $13.5 billion paid out in a combination of cash and PG&E stock. However, given the lackluster performance of PG&E shares, the deal is now worth less.