PG&E Proposes $105 Million Fund for Victims of 2017-18 Fires

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Chris and Nancy Brown embrace while looking over the remains of their burned residence after the Camp Fire tore through the Butte County town of Paradise last November. (Josh Edelson/AFP-Getty Images)

Facing lawsuits in courtrooms across Northern California for its role in disastrous wildfires in 2017 and 2018, PG&E says it wants to create a $105 million fund to help fire victims with housing or other living expenses.

In a motion filed in federal bankruptcy court Wednesday, the utility wrote that while lawsuits over the blazes could take years to play out in court, "many of those who lost their homes in the 2017 and 2018 fires continue to struggle to find affordable housing" and that many victims are either uninsured or will soon exhaust living expenses provided under their insurance coverage.

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PG&E, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in January in large part because of potential wildfire liabilities, is asking the bankruptcy court for permission to create the $105 million fund.

The exact eligibility requirements for who can tap the fund will have to be sorted out by a third-party fund administrator. But in the motion, the utility wrote that people who are most in need — such as those still living in tents — will have priority.

"We are committed to resolving the claims of wildfire victims fairly and expeditiously as part of our reorganization," PG&E said in a written statement after filing the motion. "We also recognize that there are victims of the 2017 and 2018 wildfires in immediate need. They are our friends, family and neighbors and we feel strongly that the right thing to do is to help them in this time of need."

If approved by the court, the money could come at a critical time for victims who are insured: Most insurance policies only offer living expenses for one to two years, so many fire survivors will see their payments dry up this fall.

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Patrick McCallum, who lost his home in the 2017 fires and has been lobbying for wildfire victims in the state Capitol, said attorneys for victims had asked for a larger assistance fund -- $250 million.

But, McCallum said, the important thing is getting resources to victims fast.

"At this point what's important is to get the money out quickly," he said, noting that many victims of the 2017 fires will be in "dire straits" if their insurance money runs out in the fall -- but that those displaced by last November's Camp Fire victims even worse off. 

"The really horrific situation is in Butte County, where Camp Fire victims are living in tents and trailers," McCallum said.