AT&T billed North Bay fire victims for services they stopped getting

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- An unexpected consequence of October's devastating North Bay Wildfire has added undue stress on already burdened families.

Some lost their homes. Others barely escaped the fire, but on top of all that, three families had to deal with an extra headache they never expected.

Roy Rouse surveyed what's left of his home ravaged by fire near Santa Rosa.

What happened that night still tears at Roy's heart.

RELATED: Company keeps billing couple that died in North Bay wildfires

"I couldn't breathe. It was such a shock I couldn't believe this was happening," he said as he began to cry.

With his home gone, service from AT&T was also lost.

Still he said he received a bill for $346 for service periods after the fire.

He said AT&T also asked him to return their equipment.

He couldn't believe it.

RELATED: Sonoma County leaders analyze response to North Bay Fires

"I said, 'Do you understand we lost everything in this fire?'"

These are photos taken by a security camera at the home of Janice Schwartz and Jerry Griffin.

Their home in Glen Ellen somehow survived, but their phone service did not. They've been without service for four months, but continue to be billed.

"They would be so slow to repair the damage, and yet, continue to bill you for service they weren't delivering for months," said a disbelieving Jerry.

Their landline is tied to their alarm system.

"This is really about providing a service that's needed for emergencies," said Janice.

The couple's neighbors escaped the fire by crashing their SUV through this now repaired gate that was engulfed with eight foot tall flames.

RELATED: State OES report says Sonoma Co. firestorm emergency response could have been better

Leslee and Bob Bonino say they had no choice.

"I always say we were lucky we weren't two more people with that 44 death statistic that we have here in Sonoma County," said a thankful Leslee.

Their phone service was restored February 6, but three days later, they say their service was turned off because of unpaid bills for service they weren't receiving in the month's prior.

"They made us feel like thieves. The phone company made us feel like liars and thieves,"

All three families reached out to 7 On Your Side for help.

An AT&T spokesperson told us "We do not charge customers for equipment that has been damaged by a natural disaster and have waived the charges for these customers. Unfortunately in these instances a mistake was made."

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"We are very thankful for channel 7 going to bat for us," said Edith Rouse, Roy's Wife.

"I think 7 On Your Side is wonderful," said Janice.

"I got to tell you, you're very powerful people," said Leslee.

AT&T urges any customers in similar situations call customer service and ask specifically for representatives trained in expediting bill credits related to the fires.

Produced by Randall Yip.
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