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Drivers Who Abandoned Cars In Freeway Fire Hit With Big Towing Bills

Motorists flee the North Fire on the 15 freeway (Photo courtesy of Talia Sclafani)
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Although 20 cars on the 15 freeway were lost in the North Fire on Friday, several more drivers and families were spared from the flames. Unfortunately, many of them were slapped with what they're calling exorbitant bills from towing companies—some well over $1,000.

Drivers trapped on the 15 freeway in the Cajon Pass had to abandon their cars when the massive North Fire jumped the roadway and set several cars and trucks on fire. CHP tried to clear the roadway in order to aid the firefighting effort, but several cars were left without their keys and had to be towed. When drivers went to pick up their cars on Saturday from various tow companies, they were met with an unexpected bill.

"CHP told us that we wouldn't be charged for the cars—that we would be able to pick up them up on the freeway if they weren't burned," Penny Freistroffer told NBC 4. "And once they were relocated down to the dirt fields, that we would be able to pick them up there for free."

"I think it's kind of sad that they're taking advantage of people," she added. "They left because they had to—not because they wanted to."

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"Personally I don't think it's fair because this was a natural disaster," said Albert Carrillo, who was charged $242. "It's not something that I did on purpose."

Mariela Munoz told ABC 7 she was charged over $1,600 by a Hesperia-based company called Gonzalez Tow. "They shouldn't be in business," she said.

Because the fire took place on a Friday afternoon, companies said additional weekend fees were a factor in the high costs. The CHP says they are speaking with the tow companies in order to ease the costs to drivers. "We've tried working with the people and we're trying to help the customers as much as possible," said Christy Hoellen of Desert Valley Towing.

Gonzalez Tow, who charged Munoz the $1600+ bill, says they are refunding all 9 people whose cars they towed. "Our company does not operate on people's hopelessness and any illegal activity or over charging," they said in a statement to ABC 7. They added that the effort they put in to clear the roadway would be "donated" to San Bernardino County.

Penny Freistoffer was charged $646.50, and says that being charged for a service is understandable, but added, "I don't think they should have the right to gouge people like that."