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California's biggest utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric, has agreed to pay a $1 billion settlement after several catastrophic wildfires. For communities that are trying to recover from those fires, it's an important start. Dan Brekke of member station KQED in San Francisco has the story.
DAN BREKKE, BYLINE: Last November, PG&E power lines near the town of Paradise touched off what came to be known as the Camp Fire. Within hours, the blaze destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and killed 85 people. The town and Butte County sued PG&E, joining about a dozen other local governments and agencies that have taken the company to court in recent years after big, destructive wildfires. Those lawsuits were put on hold when the company declared bankruptcy in January. But now, PG&E has cut a deal to settle their claims for $1 billion. Under the proposed agreement, Paradise and its county will get more than $500 million. Jody Jones, the town's mayor, says the money will be crucial to help the town rebuild and get back on its feet.
JODY JONES: In general, it'll be used to make sure that we can pay our policemen and our firefighters and our other town employees since we lost our entire tax base.
BREKKE: Dallas attorney Scott Summy represented the communities. He says the settlement helps his clients avoid years of litigation.
SCOTT SUMMY: Honestly, this is a very good resolution for them because they can obtain these monies to go ahead and address the public needs of these communities.
BREKKE: The rest of the billion-dollar settlement will be split among nine other counties and cities that suffered losses and fires in 2015 and 2017. They will have to wait some time for payment, and there's a chance it might not come at all. Since the settlement is part of PG&E's bankruptcy case, it will need court approval. Mayor Jones says that process could take another 12 to 18 months. But she said she sees a more immediate benefit.
JONES: I think it's going to help people's confidence a lot because they know the town's not going to go bankrupt.
BREKKE: PG&E still faces thousands of lawsuits from homeowners, businesses and insurance companies that suffered losses in recent fires. In a statement Tuesday, the company said the settlement was Paradise and others is, quote, "an important first step toward an orderly, fair and expeditious resolution of wildfire claims." For NPR News, I'm Dan Brekke.
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