This is the aftermath of California’s
deadliest and most destructive wildfire. 85 people died here in a fire that PG&E,
the country’s largest utility, is suspected of starting. Now,
PG&E has filed for bankruptcy, which pauses any lawsuits
brought by survivors. And that means those who’ve lost
everything might get nothing at all. This is a story about a
deadly catastrophe … – Please, dear God, don’t let me die. … and what happens when the government
puts the interests of a corporation over people. This is what used to be my home. My husband and I moved
in here over a year ago. Though months have passed since
the Camp Fire destroyed Paradise, survivors like Jeana Darby are still
searching for anything they’re able to recover. I’m very hopeful that they find my rings. I have an antique ring that was gifted
to me when I graduated high school, and a ring that my mother made from the
diamonds from her wedding ring to my dad. Pacific Gas and Electric, or PG&E, has admitted that its equipment was
probably the cause of the Camp Fire. An employee reportedly spotted flames
at a utility tower in the area, the same location that CAL FIRE,
which is investigating the blaze, has identified as the start of it all. That tower is part of a century-old
high-voltage transmission line that PG&E knew was a safety hazard and intended
to overhaul for five years, but didn’t. And that’s the fundamental problem. PG&E is a privately owned corporation
that answers to its shareholders and Wall Street lenders, not members of the
public. Like 17-year-old Katya, whose home was completely
destroyed in the Camp Fire. That was my grammy’s house.
That was never supposed to change. That was always supposed to be the same. It was the one thing that stayed the same throughout my entire childhood. And now it’s gone. On the morning of the fire, Katya was house-sitting for a friend
when she woke up to intense smoke. The next thing she knew, firefighters
were throwing her in the back of a truck. Yeah, it was [so] pitch black that you
could not see through any of the smoke. There was fire everywhere, and we pulled up onto this bridge
and the fireman said, “Get out.” Katya jumped into this river with 14
others and took shelter for several hours as flames surrounded her. I couldn’t do anything except for scream.
It was just looking around. It was just,
I thought I was gonna die. All of this was on fire. Even the leaves on the water were burning. Everything was just so intensely hot, and at one point I just kind of leaned
back in the water and I just floated out over there and I just kind of said,
OK, if this is how it happens and this is
how you want to take me, I’m ready. So who do you blame? I know that someone is at fault, and I would like to say that it’s most
likely PG&E’s negligence that caused this. But I don’t like to be like, oh, let’s get angry at the PG&E guys
because they started this. It’s like, I’m sorry,
but they work for a bigger corporation. You’re talking about how it’s unfair to
attack the PG&E workers who are up there trying to fix things. But what about the giant
corporation that’s worth billions? Take responsibility, take ownership and help those
people that you have hurt. That’s the least that you
can do in all of this. And [of] all the mistakes you’ve made, you can at least make some right. And they’ve made it
very clear that they won’t. In the next town over, California Governor Gavin Newsom met
with children displaced by the Camp Fire. He was elected just days before the fire.
And during his campaign, he accepted over $200,000 from PG&E. There’s a growing demand among ratepayers
that I’ve spoken to that PG&E be truly publicly owned. Is that something
you’ll support as governor? Truly publicly owned – right now, we’re just trying to figure out
how to deal with the immediacy, which is the need to
make sure we have safe, affordable and reliable service. Make sure we get through this bankruptcy
in a way that protects ratepayers, protects the victims.
Make sure the victims are made whole. How will you hold them accountable if
they’re found responsible for the Camp Fire? Well, they’re going to be held
accountable by the letter of the law. We’re going to hold them to account. We’re going to hold them to account to
make sure that the victims are made whole. We’re going to hold them [to] account
to make sure they’re doing everything to mitigate against any future disasters. But PG&E was already on
criminal probation. In 2010, a PG&E gas line exploded
and killed eight people. The company was convicted on six criminal
charges and fined $1.6 billion by the state for failing to
maintain its pipeline system. From 2014 to 2017, PG&E power lines and equipment were
responsible for sparking 1,500 wildfires across California. Then, in 2018, the California state legislature passed
a bill allowing PG&E to pass the costs of the 2017 fires to its customers. Three
months later, the Camp Fire happened. Several things went wrong
before the Camp Fire broke out. A big issue is that power lines in wooded
areas like Paradise tend to get caught on trees. And PG&E, which services 70,000 square
miles across California, insists it doesn’t have the manpower
required to trim all the trees. But what they could have done is shut
off power to customers as a safety precaution. In fact, they even said they
would. Two days before the Camp Fire, PG&E warned customers that they might
shut off power. But they didn’t, even though it appears that all of the
factors for a shutoff were at play. In an email, PG&E told me the conditions
that day did not meet their criteria, but declined to elaborate. We’re in the middle of reporting on this
PG&E story and we heard about another gas explosion that just
occurred in San Francisco. So we’re on the way to
check out the scene. The initial reports indicate that this
was a third-party dig-in related to a construction project,
and not in any way associated with PG&E. But until PG&E turns off the gas,
the fire can’t be put out. And they have a reputation for being slow. Well, during the last explosion in 2017, it took PG&E three hours to turn off
the gas. Do you think that’s acceptable? As I mentioned, our number-one priority is the safety
of the public and the customers we serve in our communities. So we’re going to
work as hard as possible, as safely, as quickly as possible,
to get this situation resolved. You agree it should be turned off ASAP? I definitely agree that we will
work as quickly as possible, do everything we can to ensure
the safety of our customers, San Francisco residents. It’s been over two hours since the gas
explosion and we just heard a press conference during which the PG&E spokesman
really had no information to offer, other than the fact that
this was not caused by PG&E. But he couldn’t tell us when the gas line
would be cut. And until that happens, this is still a very active situation. In the end, no one was hurt, but
five buildings were destroyed. PG&E claims all of its lines were
properly marked before a crew working for Verizon started digging underground.
But in 2018, an investigation by the California
Public Utilities Commission, the state agency responsible
for regulating PG&E, found the company falsified internal
records on gas pipeline safety over a five-year period. We, the people of
California, find PG&E … guilty on the charge of murder,
arson, perjury, manslaughter. At a CPUC meeting held days
after PG&E declared bankruptcy, ratepayers blasted the agency for
approving PG&E’s request to borrow $6.1 billion from the state. The CPUC has come under fire for what
critics say is the agency’s refusal to make PG&E put safety over profits, and for its cozy relationship with
the multibillion-dollar corporation. Let me just say, you were talking
about how can you correct the market? You can correct it by democratizing it. I’m here in support today for a
state buyout of PG&E, over a bailout. If the plan is structured in such a
way as to prioritize paying off the big investors and the big companies first, and not the survivors, then this is, I think, a terrible insult to the memories
of the dead and to the survivors. Protesters like Seth Sanders believe
that because PG&E is providing a public service,
the company should in fact be public. There is no reason that the state can’t
just buy PG&E over the next year and make sure that it truly serves Californians. Why do you think they wouldn’t? So if you look at who
is on the CPUC board, and you look at who’s worked for energy
companies, there’s a lot of overlap. You can’t just pay your friends, you can’t just pay your
already super-rich investors. You have to take care of the people first.
Who do you blame for this tragedy? I blame the big corporations. The Big Oil, the utilities,
along with the fossil fuel industry, have been lying to us and covering
it up for the last 30 years. PG&E does not have the right
to kill people for profit. After repeated requests, the CPUC, PG&E and Governor Newsom’s office all
declined my requests for an interview, but I still had questions. I’m at PG&E’s headquarters, and I’ve asked them several times
for an interview before this. They won’t give it to me.
But I still want to know, why didn’t they turn off the
power on the day of the fire, and why did this
multibillion-dollar corporation
keep delaying necessary repairs on a transmission line
near Paradise for years? Hi, how are you? I’m here to see Blair Jones, your spokesman. We’ve been in touch
over email. PG&E spokesman Blair Jones. Sir, stop the camera. You can come in and ask the lady right there. These are my colleagues. They’re going to come in with me. They have to stay for a while, because they have a camera. They’re not allowed in with the camera. PG&E would not let me speak with anyone. Their security gave me a business
card and showed me the door. OK, thank you. The Camp Fire had catastrophic
effects on the environment. For weeks, toxic air choked parts
of northern California, and at points we were dealing with
the worst air quality in the world. On the same day of the Camp Fire, the
Woolsey Fire scorched southern California. Oh my God, please dear God, don’t let me
die. Please dear God, don’t let me die. Please dear God,
let me get out of this. Please, please. In the face of growing climate change, which PG&E points to as a culprit in the wildfires, I wanted to know what can be done
to prevent such catastrophes. Mark Jacobson is an expert in renewable
energy and is consulting on the Green New Deal. How much is climate change a factor, when you look at the magnitude of the
fires California has been having lately? Climate change is definitely a factor
in intensifying fires and even allowing some of them to occur or to spread.
We have to address global warming, certainly on a large scale. And the way to do that is to transition
to clean and renewable energy for all purposes. So if you were tasked with helping to
rebuild Paradise and set up the energy there, what would you be doing? I would make it so it’s a completely
electric-efficient community running primarily on solar and wind. In
California, there’s a law that by 2020, all new homes have to be zero net energy. They have to basically produce as much
energy as they consume in the annual average. It could take up to a
decade to rebuild Paradise. PG&E has stressed it’ll do more safety
shutoffs as part of a new wildfire prevention plan. Its CEO has stepped down with
a payout of $2.5 million. The company is also trying to give
out $235 million in bonuses this year, all while the Camp Fire survivors are
waiting to see what they’ll receive. And as wildfires become the norm in California, the state has yet to hold the corporation
accountable to the public it serves. There is somebody up there in the chain
of command making these decisions and being totally fine with it, but at least take ownership for the fact
that you provided the service and it ended up hurting thousands. Hey guys, it’s Dena here at PG&E’s headquarters. Thanks for watching this episode about
how corporate negligence can kill people. Let me know what you think
about PG&E in the comments. Be sure to like this video and share it.
And if you like this reporting, make sure to like the Direct From
playlist. I’ll see you next time.