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PG&E agrees to extend deadline for wildfire damage claims

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SAN FRANCISCO — Pacific Gas & Electric has agreed to extend by two months the deadline to file claims against the company for damages suffered from a series of wildfires in California.

Lawyers for the victims asked to extend the original Oct. 21 deadline, arguing that tens of thousands of people eligible to receive payments from PG&E have not sought compensation.

They said many wildfire survivors — still traumatized and struggling to get back on their feet — weren't aware of their right to file a claim.

PG&E attorney Tim Cameron told U.S. District Judge James Donato on Monday the deadline will be extended to Dec. 31 to increase participation and said the company is looking into setting up a claims center close to Paradise, which was virtually wiped off the map by a fast-moving wildfire that killed 85 people nearly a year ago.

Donato, who is overseeing the process of estimating PG&E's total wildfire liability for its bankruptcy case, suggested expanding the outreach effort.

The new date must still be approved by a judge overseeing the bankruptcy case.

PG&E has set aside $8.4 billion to pay wildfire victims as part of its bankruptcy plan. The company declared bankruptcy in January as it faced up to $30 billion in damages from wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that were started by the company's electrical equipment.

Lawyers for wildfire victims and PG&E are also considering whether new claims related to a wildfire burning in wine country will be included in the bankruptcy case.

Authorities have not determined what sparked the Kincade Fire, which started on Oct. 23 and has destroyed 374 structures in Sonoma County. However, PG&E told state regulators that it had a problem at a transmission tower near where the fire ignited. The utility had shut off power to thousands of people in Northern California that day in a bid to prevent high winds from toppling power lines and igniting wildfires.

Power was shut off to distribution lines but not to transmission lines.

On Monday, a federal judge asked PG&E to report by Nov. 29 "when, how and by whom" the jumper cable at the transmission tower was last inspected. PG&E had reported the jumper, a metal connector between an incoming and outgoing electrical line, broke several minutes before the fire was reported.

"Should we now be worried that other jumper cables inspected in the same manner have potential failures that have gone undetected?" asked U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing the utility's felony probation for a deadly natural gas explosion in 2010.

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