SAN FRANCISCO — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is suspending dividend payments to shareholders out of concern for any finding of financial liability in Northern California’s devastating wildfires, California’s largest utility said Wednesday.

In a statement, board chairman Richard C. Kelly said utility officials decided temporarily halting the payments “is prudent with respect to cash conservation” for the utility.

PG&E’s stock plunged 9 percent in extended trading after the announcement. The company now has lost one-third of its market value – a drop of $11 billion – since the wildfires broke out in October, killing 44 people and causing $9 billion in property damage. California officials say the wine-country fires destroyed more houses than any disaster in the state since San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake.

Fire investigators say they are examining is whether power lines or other electrical equipment sparked the fires. In California, utilities can be held financially responsible for damage if their equipment caused the problem.


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