The corporate owner of a power company that is alleged to have contributed to a massive wildfire that destroyed thousands of structures in a Northern California town last year has been charged with four counts of manslaughter, among other charges.
The cause of the tragic Camp Fire, which killed at least 40 people and devastated the town of Paradise, has yet to be determined. But the blaze, California’s most destructive wildfire on record, has been linked to a deadly failure at the Butte County Electric Co-Operative in Paradise. The company is considered a “starting point” for the fire, so its failures have been determined to be important.
The 10-count criminal complaint was unsealed on Tuesday and alleges that Powerline Construction Contractors of Kentucky employed John Donahue, who was the foreman of the Butte County Electric Co-Operative’s operations, and failed to properly inspect power poles installed in Forestville by undergrounding.
“Crews failed to monitor the status of the power lines outside the Powerline Construction Contractors facility and were unaware of the gas leak immediately south of the facility until the gas line ruptured,” read the court document. “This is alleged to have caused the Camp Fire, as well as the Magalia Fire, that began the following day, and which burned and destroyed thousands of homes and personal property in the Magalia and Magalia Valley areas of the County.”
The utility company was also charged with failing to properly investigate and investigate the location of the reported gas leak and failing to properly identify the location of a joint among the multi-pole electrical equipment supporting the equipment.
“In addition, the Electric Co-Operative was alleged to have failed to investigate the location of the fires and failing to protect the residents of the County from electrical hazards and failing to properly inspect utility poles and to inspect utility personnel working on, overhead electric lines,” read the complaint.
The company also appeared to be negligent in upgrading its equipment, as it failed to install automatic circuits that would communicate with the power substation in Oroville to lower the flow of power in and out of the facility in case of emergency.
This is only the second time this year that prosecutors have charged utility companies with crimes related to wildfires. A California power company was charged last week with violating safety regulations that caused a wildland wildfire in Southern California.