MINNEAPOLIS – The daughter of retired longtime Twin Cities news anchor Pat Miles has a close connection to the Camp Fire ravaging California, as the massive wildfire is believed to have origins near her home in Pulga, California.
Pulga is an abandoned mining town turned resort destination about 90 miles north of Sacramento.
Betsy Cowley, who grew up in Minnesota, discovered the ghost town in 2015 and asked her family to help her bring the community back to life. The mining town turned getaway is now a destination for corporate retreats and is popular with its camping and outdoor activities. Cowley hired architects and artists to rebuild the image of the town as well.
“We’ve been slowly bringing it back to its original look and feel. It’s been quite a labor of love,” said Charles “Bucky” Zimmerman, Miles’ longtime husband, and Cowley’s stepfather. He is also founding partner of Zimmerman Reed, a law firm that operates in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Phoenix.
Miles and Zimmerman brought their two daughters, including Cowley, to a vacation in the Caribbean when they got the call that the Camp Fire was inching close to Pulga.
“I guess your first thought is, oh my gosh, our little town of Pulga, our dream, our business plan, burning up in flames, it’s such a helpless thought,” said Zimmerman. “It was very anxiety provoking and nerve wracking, but the one thing we knew, Betsy was safe.”
Zimmerman, who is a class action attorney, recently handling cases like the NHL brain injury litigation and the Target data breach class action lawsuits, says he is looking into possible class action litigation brought against the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) if found responsible for the Camp Fire.
The cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation, but Zimmerman said Cowley received an email from PG&E requesting access to her property just one day before the fire began, for maintenance purposes.
“Now I can’t connect the dots yet, it’s highly speculative but the working hypothesis is the fire started in this area one-mile northeast of Pulga at the high-powered lines,” said Zimmerman.
Pacific Gas and Electric isn’t commenting on those claims.
Cowley was able to return to Pulga this past Monday, relieved to find most of the buildings unharmed by the flames.
“It jumped over the town, you might say it's a miracle, I would say it's a miracle,” said Miles.
With only a few buildings on the property burned, Cowley’s home is safe and she’s spending time supporting railroad workers, police and media working near her community.
“You realize we are all bound together by nature and the forces of nature and you just have to pick up, we are still alive, and we are lucky to be here,” said Zimmerman.
Zimmerman said Cowley is urging any wildfire survivors to seek shelter in Pulga if possible, as the community has lots of space to accommodate anyone displaced.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to fund repairs for Pulga.
The Camp Fire is now the deadliest wildfire recorded in California history, with the death toll rising to 48 people.