Bankruptcy judge approves $105M PG&E fund to help wildfire survivors

A federal judge on Wednesday approved a plan for the Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. (PG&E) to establish a $105 million relief fund to assist those who lost property during recent California wildfires caused by its power lines.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali called the fund -- it was created by the utility -- an "appropriate remedy." He said he couldn’t impose a higher amount under current law and wanted an independent party named in five days to administer the program.

In 2017, PG&E crews work on restoring power lines in a fire-ravaged neighborhood in an aerial view in the aftermath of a wildfire in Santa Rosa, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

In 2017, PG&E crews work on restoring power lines in a fire-ravaged neighborhood in an aerial view in the aftermath of a wildfire in Santa Rosa, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

"We are ready, willing and anxious to fund the $105 million," Stephen Karotkin, an attorney for PG&E, told Montali.

Lawyers for some survivors argued that the utility could pay up to $250 million to help their clients. They pointed out that the utility sought last month to pay employees $235 million in bonuses.

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The fund will help those who are uninsured, need help with housing costs or have other needs. PG&E will draw the $105 million from its cash reserves, with administrative costs capped at $5 million. The utility said it would not increase rates to pay for the program.

The agreement comes a week after California fire investigators determined that PG&E power lines started the Nov. 8 Camp Fire, a blaze that killed 85 people and decimated the town of Paradise. It burned 153,336 acres and destroyed in excess of 18,000 structures.

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“The tinder-dry vegetation and Red Flag conditions consisting of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures promoted this fire and caused extreme rates of spread, rapidly burning into Pulga to the east and west into Concow, Paradise, Magalia and the outskirts of east Chico,” the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said of its findings.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection in January in the midst of multiple lawsuits in the billions of dollars.

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Montali gave the utility four months to file a plan to emerge from bankruptcy, not the six months it had requested.