SANTA ROSA, Calif. - A key deadline is approaching for anyone affected by massive wildfires linked to PG&E in recent years.
Monday is the final day to file a claim with the bankruptcy court, yet fewer than half of eligible victims have done so.
"They don't want to look at the devastation and they don't want to think back to the fires," said Tubbs Fire survivor WIll Abrams, whose home site in the hills of Mark West Springs is still leveled. "This is very emotional for a lot of people and I ran from the flames with my family."
Abrams has a filed a claim for unspecified damages, as he continues to negotiate with State Farm for his insured losses.
"If someone burned down your house, you would file a claim you would hold them responsible and this should be no different, PG&E burned down our houses," said Abrams.
Confusion and inertia have contributed to a relatively low number of fire survivors seeking compensation.
"The clock is running down, just a few days," said Robert Upton, a Nuns Fire survivor who rebuilt his home in Glen Ellen with wife Linda. "Our effort is to make sure victims get what is due to them and they don't miss out," said Upton.
A judge has set aside $8.5 billion for payouts to wildfire victims, but Upton says there are misconceptions: that PG&E is broke and that the claims are part of a class-action.
"I think people think they're suing PG&E, and they're not, they're filing a claim in bankruptcy court, totally different," said Upton.
Anyone harmed by recent utility-related fires can file: owners and renters, insured or not, and emotional trauma qualifies, too. The claim doesn't require a destroyed property; lost wages, a hotel stay, or smoke damage are also valid losses.
"You lose nothing by filing, " said Murray Cockerill, a disaster relief attorney with Legal Aid of Sonoma County. "This is just a claim going into the bankruptcy court and eventually the court will make a decision on how those funds are distributed."
Funds unclaimed will most likely be diverted to investors and insurance companies, so why skip it?
Cockerill says trauma tends to immobilize people.
"They avoid taking about, thinking about, and doing anything, even when they know they could help themselves."
On the second firestorm anniversary, the Uptons and other survivors gathered to try to generate publicity about the fund.
"That is real money, and a lot of people have no idea, that if they don't file in time, they're walking away from something that could be a major help to them," said Howard Klepper, another Nuns Fire survivor.
The band of volunteers has launched a website (pgefireinfo.com) that explains the process and provides a link to the form.
They estimate it takes about 15 minutes to fill out, and requires no attorney, dollar estimates or documentation at this stage.
"Get your name in now, file a claim so you're in line to get money and later you have time to decide the details," said Tubbs Fire survivor, James Finn, at the news conference.
The judge presiding over PG&E's financial reorganization was asked to extend the deadline, but refused.
The Monday cutoff also applies to victims of Butte County's Camp Fire, which was less than a year ago.
Payments are expected to be made by the end of next year.