SAN FRANCISCO —A federal judge in San Francisco found Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. violated its probation in a criminal case stemming from a deadly gas explosion in 2010 and berated the utility Wednesday for not doing enough to prevent its equipment from causing more wildfires.

The utility’s return to a U.S. courtroom came a day after it declared bankruptcy, as it tries to convince a judge not to order dramatic steps to try to mitigate wildfires in the future.

U.S. Judge William Alsup upheld a finding that PG&E failed to notify probation officials that a prosecutor’s office had opened a full investigation into the utility’s role in a 2017 California wildfire.

He also told attorneys for the company that safety was not PG&E’s No. 1 priority and the company could have invested more on trimming trees.

“To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here that PG&E is starting these fires,” Alsup said. “More money could have been spent. It’s not enough to just come in here and say, ‘Judge we’re trying to mitigate it.’ That’s platitudes.”

Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E on pipeline safety charges.

He previously proposed as part of PG&E’s probation that it remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high winds and shut off power at times when fire is a risk.

Kate Dyer, an attorney for PG&E, said the company had communicated with probation officials and didn’t hear until recently that it had fallen short.

Alsup said his goal was to prevent PG&E equipment from causing any wildfires during the 2019 fire season. PG&E shot back in a court filing last week that the judge’s proposals would endanger lives and could cost $150 billion to implement.


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