KLAMATH RIVER, Calif. – One month ago, the McKinney fire in Siskiyou County erupted, killing four people and destroying or damaging hundreds of homes. Now, power bills are being sent to residents who say they lost everything in the fire.
“It was pretty apparent that there was no time left,” said fire victim Matt Howe. “It looked like something out of a war scene. It was just all piles of ashes burnt and melted.”
Howe and his family escaped the flames but one of their dogs and four cats didn’t make it. Their five-acre property was decimated.
To add insult to injury, Howe and his neighbors received utility bills from Pacific Power, nearly a week after the fire ripped through.
“I stopped by the Post Office and that was on top of the stack of mail – the bill from Pacific Power,” he said. “You’re asking us to settle up with you when we’re at our lowest point right now.”
Howe said the $600 bill is still outstanding and not being forgiven, despite several calls to Pacific Power’s parent company PacifiCorp.
The Oregon-based utility is already accused of causing the massive fire and facing a lawsuit claiming its equipment is responsible. The official cause is still under investigation.
California lawyer Amanda LoCurto represents wildfire victims and said at least 300 people affected by the McKinney Fire have received power bills since then. Additionally, about four dozen of them have lost their homes.
“I think what it shows is an incredible lack of understanding, sympathy and tact,” said LoCurto. “In my view, Pacific Power owes the fire victims money – not the other way around.”
PacifiCorp responded in a statement that reads in part, “We’re working to help customers affected by fires get back on their feet…Residents of Siskiyou County now have access to billing and payment relief in a variety of forms. We’re in the process of communicating these new options to customers, who can find the most up-to-date information by calling our customer care team.”
Despite that, many fire victims report also getting a letter from Pacific Power after their homes were destroyed that said the company was taking additional safety precautions to reduce wildfire risk, warning of power shutoffs, and providing tips to prepare for those outages.
“The letter was dated a week after my home burned down,” Howe said. “It was informing me of all the precautionary measures they were taking and there might be future power outages to a house that no longer exists.”
PacifiCorp provided KTVU with a list of protections offered to all customers in Siskiyou County, including discontinuing billing, prorating monthly charges, or implementing payment plan options.
But it did not include forgiving any bills that have gone unpaid.
Howe said his family was put on a payment plan and has a year to pay back his electric charges, calling it too little, too late.
“I’m just blown away by all of it,” Howe said. “I really don’t have the words at this point.”
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