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Overwhelmed or Ill Informed, 70,000 Wildfire Victims May Get Nothing


Before the 2017 wildfires, PG&E stock was trading above $70 a share, a five-year high. But with the bankruptcy and investigators’ determination that the utility was responsible for the Camp Fire and several others, the stock price is barely above $10.

PG&E has proposed terms in the bankruptcy that would put its overall payments for wildfire-related losses at $20.4 billion. In addition to earmarking $8.4 billion for victims, it has committed $11 billion to insurers and $1 billion to public agencies, subject to court approval.

It is pushing to complete the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process by June 30 so it can qualify for a newly created state program that will provide utilities with a backstop against liability in future fires.

Ahead of the Oct. 21 cutoff for claims, a series of critical hearings is scheduled, starting Monday. Frank Pitre, a lawyer who represents wildfire victims, has signaled a possible move to push the deadline farther out.

“We may be coming before you and asking for an extension of time for the claims process,” Mr. Pitre told the court last month. “I’m very concerned that we are not getting in the requisite claims that should come in based on what we believed, in good faith, are the number of people who have been impacted.”

He said the total number, including those who had already filed claims, could be 75,000 to 100,000.

“PG&E’s game is to cut the time period for victims’ compensation way down,” Mr. Pitre said in an interview. “That works to the advantage of PG&E and their shareholders. They want to game the system.”

Asked to address the assertion, Mr. Castagnola, the company spokesman, said, “PG&E believes the Chapter 11 process will support the orderly, fair and expeditious resolution of claims, including wildfire claims.”


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