FILE PHOTO: A vineyard burns overnight during a wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S. November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – PG&E Corp may set up a $105 million housing fund for victims of 2017 and 2018 wildfires in California, which set records for devastation and were blamed on the utility’s equipment, the judge overseeing the investor-owned power producer’s bankruptcy ruled on Wednesday.
Creditors, which include wildfire victims, are fighting for funds as PG&E navigates bankruptcy stemming from the blazes and as the state plans for increasingly long and dangerous fire seasons its officials attribute to climate change. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali at a hearing approved a motion by PG&E seeking permission to establish the fund for people who lost homes in the fires and were uninsured or have used up or will exhaust their insurance.
San Francisco-headquartered PG&E sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January in the face of liabilities it estimated at over $30 billion in the aftermath of November’s Camp Fire, California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire in modern times.
The Camp Fire killed more than 85 people and destroyed more than 14,600 houses, mobile homes and other housing units, according to California’s Department of Finance.
More than 11,000 of those housing units were lost in the town Paradise, which the Camp Fire leveled.
State fire investigators earlier this month formally determined PG&E’s power lines caused the Camp Fire, the world’s most expensive natural disaster of 2018 with overall losses of $16.5 billion, according to reinsurance company Munich Re.
Montali said at Wednesday’s hearing he wants to see PG&E’s proposed fund up and running as quickly as possible and urged the company and committees for its unsecured creditors and wildfire victims to try to agree on a fund administrator in five days.
“I’ll make sure the process moves forward quickly,” Montali said, adding he would appoint an administrator if PG&E and the committees could not agree on one.
According to PG&E, the $105 million for its fund will come from its available cash.
Reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco; Editing by Peter Henderson and Matthew Lewis