The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors accepted a $25.4 million settlement from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Tuesday for damages incurred by the county in the 2015 Butte Fire, and more than $5 million of that settlement will go to the legal firm contracted by the county to secure the settlement.
Subtracting legal fees to be paid to the national law firm Baron & Budd, the total amount accepted by the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is $20,223,000, said Tim Lutz, the county administrative officer. Funds are expected to be paid before the end of 2018.
Lutz said Tuesday he was waiting to hear from the county counsel about how much information he could disclose about mediation talks with PG&E, including how much Calaveras County initially sought from the utility giant for its role in the devastating Butte Fire.
The Butte Fire broke out Sept. 9, 2015, when a gray pine hit a PG&E overhead conductor at 17704 Butte Mountain Road near Charamuga Ranch in Amador County, and caused ignition that started the fire, a California Public Utilities Commission investigation determined.
The fire burned 70,868 acres, destroyed 921 structures including 549 homes, 368 outbuildings and four commercial properties, damaged 44 structures and resulted in two civilian fatalities and one injury. It was declared contained Oct. 1, 2015.
Both people who died in the Butte Fire were residents of Calaveras County who refused to evacuate the area as recommended by local authorities, according to the CPUC investigation. Coroner’s reports indicated the cause of death for both victims was consumption by fire: residential conflagration.
A representative for Pacific Gas and Electric could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
County staff worked with a team of national experts to determine the total amount of damages, destruction, costs and monetary losses Calaveras County suffered in what they called the most expensive disaster in the county’s 167-year history.
They did not include a dollar total of estimated Butte Fire losses when they announced they intended to sue PG&E in February this year.
“Some of the mediation content we can disclose and some we cannot disclose, because it’s confidential,” Lutz said Tuesday evening.
Asked for clarity about who gets money out of the $20.223 million that goes to the county, Lutz emphasized the money is unrestricted cash that will be placed in a designated fund to cover county-incurred damages.
“This settlement number was presented to board today, and they did decide to accept,” Lutz said. “But a broader discussion still needs to happen about how that money will be used locally.”
The $20.223 million is to repay agreed-upon damages incurred by the county, not homeowners, Lutz said.
“There are numerous homeowners who are engaged in their own litigation with PG&E and this county settlement is not related to those homeowners’ legal actions,” Lutz said. “This settlement will have no impact on individuals seeking claims from PG&E for the Butte Fire.”
Representatives and attorneys for both Calaveras County and PG&E attended three substantive mediation sessions, according to county staff.
“This settlement recovers millions of dollars of lost revenues and resources the County lost in the 2015 Butte Fire,” Gary Tofanelli, District 1 supervisor and the chair of the board said Tuesday.
Details of the mediation process are confidential per agreement among the parties, the mediator, and per California law, according to county staff.
The Board of Supervisors for Calaveras County was advised by County Counsel Megan Stedtfeld, Deputy County Counsel Greg Wayland, and people with Baron & Budd, which has represented hundreds of public entities in complex litigation nationwide over the past 20 years.
The state Department of Insurance said in January 2016 the Butte Fire caused an estimated $300 million in insured losses in Calaveras and Amador counties. In addition, the Butte Fire destroyed $51 million in public infrastructure and resulted in $2.7 million in public property damage, a county spokesperson said.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.