By David Matthews

California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric agreed to pay 14 local governments $1 billion as part of a settlement after its equipment caused deadly wildfires.

More than half of the $1 billion is earmarked for the town of Paradise and Butte County, which sustained catastrophic loss of life and property damage after the Camp fire in November 2018. At least 85 people died.

Paradise lost more than 90% of tax revenue after 23,000 citizens were displaced by the fire.

"There is some relief and hope in knowing that we will have some financial stability," Paradise Town Manager Lauren Gill said. "We can't do disaster recovery and rebuild the town if we don't have people to do it."

The settlement also covers damage from a 2015 fire and a series of fires that hit wine country in 2017. However, it may not be approved by a federal bankruptcy court until private lawsuits against PG&E are resolved.

Power lines knocked down by winds during hot, dry weather have been pinpointed as the culprit behind some of the state's most destructive fires.

Last month, California regulators approved a plan to cut off electricity during peak fire conditions, which could affect cities as big as San Francisco and San Jose.

"Nobody who lives in the wildfire zone should consider themselves to have reliable electricity. They should prepare accordingly," Mike Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, told the Sacramento Press Club on Tuesday.

While California's other investor-owned utility companies have warned that their increased insurance premiums could force rate hikes on customers, state lawmakers are weighing a fund (paid for mostly by the utilities themselves) that could ease liability concerns.

"It's important that we put together a program that ratepayers aren't the victims once again," state Senator Bill Dodd said.

With Wire News Services

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