What happened

As California's "Camp Fire" continues to rage, the bad news keeps getting worse for PG&E Corporation (PCG -0.54%), the electric utility now being blamed for the wildfire's outbreak. In early trading Thursday, PG&E stock fell as much as 31% as of 3 p.m. EST.

So what

CNN is reporting close to five dozen fatalities from the Camp Fire to date, and with 130 more persons reported missing, the death toll is likely to rise.

Estimates of the financial toll PG&E will pay from this disaster are rising as well. Today, Bloomberg cited analyst estimates trying to get a handle on the total financial exposure the electric utility could face:

  • $17 billion in potential liabilities from 17 wildfires last year in which PG&E is said to have played a role (JPMorgan) 
  • $15 billion in potential liabilities from wildfires this year (Citigroup)

In separate reporting, CNN cited a Moody's estimate that the Camp Fire alone could account for as much as $6.8 billion in damages.

Power lines

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

These are losses from damage that has already been inflicted on California and its residents. According to CNN, the Camp Fire was only about "35% contained" as of Wednesday. Big as PG&E's losses look already, they could still get bigger -- and its stock price could fall further still. Given the risk, investors are best advised to avoid this stock until the extent of PG&E's liability is better known.