KLAMATH RIVER, Calif. — A month ago, the McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County erupted, killing four people and destroying or damaging hundreds of homes. Now electricity bills are being sent to residents who say they lost everything in the fire.
“It was pretty obvious there was no time left,” said fire victim Matt Howe. “It looked like something out of a war scene. It was just piles of burnt, melted ashes.
Howe and his family escaped the flames, but one of their dogs and four cats did not survive. 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.
“I stopped at the post office and it was on top of the pile of mail – the Pacific Power bill,” he said. “You are asking us to settle with you when we are at our lowest point right now.”
Howe said the $600 bill remains unpaid and unforgiven, despite multiple appeals to Pacific Power’s parent company, PacifiCorp.
The Oregon-based utility is already accused of causing the massive blaze and faces a lawsuit claiming its equipment is responsible. The official cause is still under investigation.
California attorney Amanda LoCurto represents wildfire victims and said at least 300 people affected by the McKinney Fire have received power bills since then. In addition, about four dozen of them lost their homes.
“I think it shows an incredible lack of understanding, sympathy and tact,” LoCurto said. “In my opinion, Pacific Power owes the victims of the fire money, not the other way around.”
PacifiCorp responded in a statement that reads in part: “We are working to help customers affected by the fires get back on their feet…Residents of Siskiyou County now have access to billing and relief payments in various forms. We are in the process of communicating these new options to customers, who can find the most up-to-date information by calling our customer service department.
Despite this, many fire victims also report receiving a letter from Pacific Power after their homes were destroyed stating that the company was taking extra safety measures to reduce the risk of wildfire, warning of power outages. and providing guidance to prepare for such outages.
“The letter was dated a week after my house burned down,” Howe said. “He was informing me of all the precautionary measures they were taking and there could be future power outages in a house that no longer exists.”
PacifiCorp provided KTVU with a list of protections available to all Siskiyou County customers, including stopping billing, prorating monthly charges, or implementing payment plan options.
But that did not include the forgiveness of unpaid bills.
Howe said his family had a payment plan and had a year to pay off their electric bills, calling it too little, too late.
“I’m just blown away by it all,” Howe said. “I really don’t have the words at this point.”
New York Post