Drivers Who Fled 15 Freeway Fire Frustrated by Tow Fees

Some drivers who were forced to abandon their cars on a Southern California freeway on Friday when a brush fire jumped lanes and set cars ablaze say they're frustrated over the towing bills they've received.

Owners said they have been charged as much as $650 for towing services they were forced to accept. Some drivers said the California Highway Patrol did not give them any choice about who towed their cars.

By the time the North Fire in the Cajon Pass had done its worst, 18 cars and two big rigs had been charred.

But many of the abandoned cars were driveable. And when drivers tried to get back to them Saturday, there was confusion and frustration about unavoidable towing costs.

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

Some drivers said they were told they would be able to pick up their cars for free if they weren't damaged by the fire.

"They told us that we would have to pay for the car when we got to the tow yard and the bill was around $650," Penny Freistroffer said. "The CHP told us that we wouldn't be charged for the cars, that we would be able at first to pick them up on the freeway if they weren't burned. And once they were relocated down to the dirt fields that we'd be able to pick them up there for free."

A bill provided by Freistroffe's shows she was charged $646.50. Those charges include two hours of towing, an after-hours gate fee and one day of storage.

"I understand them providing a service to the public and they should get paid a certain amount, but I don’t think they should have the right to gouge people like that," she said.

The CHP Inland Division has reached out to tow companies to try and lessen the costs to drivers, CHP officials said.

One towing company said they have also tried to resolve the issue.

"We've tried working with the people and we're trying to help the customers as much as possible. We've cut our rates down to one hour for towing and everything else," said Christy Hoellen of Desert Valley Towing. "We only got a small fraction of running cars. Most of our cars were, how do you want to say, burnt to the ground."

There were several tow companies involved in the process. NBC4 spoke with another tow company called Gonzalez Tow. They say they were charging people to pick up their cars but decided to refund their money.

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