The Zogg Fire ignited on September 27th, 2020, and burned 56,338 acres in Shasta and Tehama counties. Over 1,700 personnel were involved in the containment effort, and thousands of people were evacuated from their homes. 204 structures were destroyed, and at least 27 more structures were damaged. Four civilians were killed in the blaze, and one firefighter was severely injured.
The fire was declared 100% contained on October 13th, 2020. On March 22nd, 2021, CAL Fire announced that the Zogg Fire was caused by a tree that fell onto PG&E equipment. The Safety and Enforcement Division alleged that Pacific Gas & Electric had marked the tree for removal but had not done so in time due to poor recordkeeping. PG&E was able to avoid criminal charges but agreed to pay over $200 million in penalties and settlements for its involvement in the Zogg Fire.
A statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. According to the California Judicial Branch, the statute of limitations for the following legal disputes in California are:
Personal injury: Two years from the injury. If the injury was not discovered right away, then it is 1 year from the date the injury was discovered.
Property damage: Three years from the date the damage occurred.
The Zogg Fire was first reported around 2:42 pm on September 27th at Zogg Mine Road and Jenny Bird Lane, near PG&E electrical infrastructure.
On October 8th, CAL Fire collected PG&E equipment near the believed ignition site as part of its investigation into the cause of the fire. At the time, PG&E was still under a 5-year felony probation for a 2010 pipeline explosion and had pled guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter for the Camp Fire just a year previous.
PG&E said it had shut off power to several areas of Shasta County on the day of the fire but hadn’t de-energized the area in question in part because wind and gust speeds weren’t strong enough to justify a shut-off. State investigators would later seize parts of a gray pine tree as they believed it could be related to the blaze. In court proceedings, PG&E said the tree in question may have been marked for removal (but not removed) following the 2018 Carr Fire.
The utility company stated that while there was a tree removal effort in October 2018 in the area, there was uncertainty as to whether the tree had been tagged for removal or not. PG&E lawyers also said tree removal efforts were delayed when a resident “brandished a firearm to tree crews attempting to work in the area and was threatening to do so again.” Then, the Camp Fire ignited in early November and drew resources away from the fire mitigation effort.
Less than 3 months after the Zogg Fire ripped through Shasta County, 150 residents filed a lawsuit against PG&E, alleging the utility company was negligent in failing to remove the tree that fell onto its power line. While the cause of the fire had not yet been determined, the plaintiffs believed poor vegetation management, a commonality in many PG&E-sparked fires, was to blame.
On March 22nd, 2021, CAL Fire released a statement that it had determined the Zogg Fire was caused by a pine tree contacting electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric. The report was forwarded to the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office.
Two days later, Singleton Schreiber McKenzie & Scott filed a lawsuit against PG&E on behalf of 22 victims of the Zogg Fire. The lawsuit alleged that “PG&E negligently, recklessly, and willfully failed to properly, safely, and prudently inspect, repair, maintain and operate the electrical equipment in its utility infrastructure; and/or PG&E negligently, recklessly, and willfully failed to maintain an appropriate clearance area between the electrical equipment in its utility infrastructure and surrounding vegetation.” Plaintiffs included homeowners, renters, business owners, and other individuals and entities affected by the fire.
On May 26th, PG&E reached a $12.36 million settlement with Shasta and Tehama counties over public and natural resources lost in the Zogg Fire. A large portion (more than 99%) of the settlement reportedly went to Shasta County and covered civil damages to roads and pavement, lost revenues, and labor time.
In September 2021, the Shasta County DA’s Office filed criminal charges against PG&E. Thirty-one charges were filed in total, including 11 felony charges and 4 counts of involuntary manslaughter. The DA’s Office was determined to hold PG&E criminally responsible for recklessly causing a fire that resulted in the death of 4 people and left a firefighter paralyzed. A judge ruled there was enough evidence for the case to move forward.
However, a tentative ruling from another judge found PG&E was not criminally negligent because there was not enough evidence to prove the tree had been marked for removal, nor was there evidence that PG&E had acted below the standard of care. The area in question had reportedly been inspected at least 4 times, during which trees were identified and marked and later removed, according to testimony. According to the court documents, “Because PG&E was not actually aware of the danger the offending tree posed, it was not possible for PG&E to have disregarded that known risk.”
As a result, prosecutors felt the case was too risky to take to trial. A $50 million settlement agreement was reached in May 2023 in exchange for all charges being dismissed. Although $45 million would be put towards fire prevention and rebuilding efforts in the area (the remaining $5 million was a civil penalty), Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett and victims were less than pleased with the outcome.
In June 2022, the Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) released its investigative report into the Zogg Fire to the public. According to the report, the “SED found that PG&E violated the Commission’s General Order (GO) 95 and 165, specifically, three violations of GO 95, Rule 31.1 and one violation of GO 165, Section III-B.”
The violations included:
“Hazard Gray Pine tree was identified but not abated. GO 95, Rule 31.1
Separate CEMA patrol not conducted in 2019. GO 95, Rule 31.1
Hard copy 2018-2019 VC map not retained. GO 95, Rule 31.1
Pole was not subject to an intrusive inspection by 2007. GO 165, Section III-B”
PG&E challenged the SED’s findings. While a $150 million regulatory settlement was ultimately reached, the deal did not require PG&E to admit to any wrongdoing, and language was also removed that labeled the company’s actions “severe” and “egregious”. The approved deal includes a $10 million fine and requires PG&E shareholders to contribute $140 million for better record keeping and vegetation management in high-fire risk areas, among other wildfire safety efforts.