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PG&E Will Plead Guilty To 84 Counts Of Involuntary Manslaughter During 2018 Wildfire

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

California utility PG&E has agreed to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2013 Camp Fire. That fire destroyed the town of Paradise in Northern California. Now the community there is split over whether this deal delivers justice for the dead and for those left behind. From member station KQED, Lily Jamali has more.

LILY JAMALI, BYLINE: The settlement caps a year-long criminal investigation of PG&E's role in causing the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive in California's history. The probe was spearheaded by Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey.

MICHAEL RAMSEY: What we're looking at is a modicum of justice to the community for what has happened - just the horribleness of what happened to our community.

JAMALI: Ramsey says the utility will also plead guilty to a charge of unlawfully causing a fire.

RAMSEY: It is our sincere hope that this rather extraordinary agreement to plead to 84 counts of manslaughter will send a clear message that this shall not happen again.

JAMALI: In a statement, PG&E said it deeply regrets the tragedy and called the deal an important step in taking responsibility for the past. The company will be formally sentenced next month. But not all the Camp Fire's tens of thousands of survivors are pleased. Patti Savage, who lost her home, is upset that PG&E will only be fined $3.5 million, the maximum amount prosecutors could get under the law.

PATTI SAVAGE: I'm so angry. I mean, we lost nearly everything - our town, our belongings, some of us our lives. And they get a slap on the hand.

JAMALI: Prosecutors say no one's going to jail because it would be impossible to assign blame to one person or group of people. As Savage and other survivors of PG&E-caused fires prepare to vote on a separate $13.5 billion settlement, she says she wants PG&E to clean up its act.

SAVAGE: I would rather take no money at all than to have this continue.

JAMALI: The settlement could place PG&E in violation of its federal felony probation for another safety catastrophe a decade ago and may slow down plans for a June exit from bankruptcy protection, which it entered last year, citing billions in wildfire liabilities. However, that plan got a boost Friday after California Gov. Gavin Newsom gave his approval.

For NPR News, I'm Lily Jamali in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.