California fires bring upheaval to utilities as they face massive liabilities

The worst fires in recorded California history promise to reshape the state’s utilities as Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison face billions of dollars in potential liabilities and growing calls to overhaul their systems to better prevent wildfires.

Power suppliers in California have faced increasing financial pressure over the last decade as a series of deadly fires has been linked to system malfunctions, usually caused by powerful winds.

But the November fires — which killed at least 71 people in Northern California and at least three in Southern California — have raised larger questions about the utilities’ operations and how much of the costs for fire damage and system improvements will be shouldered by ratepayers.

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