By Abbott Dutton
*Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. Originally, Supervisor Cliff Edson said he did not receive a notice from AT&T about the pending loss of service. After combing through his emails, he says he found a notice dated Jan. 12.
CALAVERAS COUNTY (CBS13) — Victims of the Butte Fire have lost a critical communication link as officials say a cellphone company abruptly removed a temporary cell tower.
It’s been just four months since the Butte Fire tore through Amador and Calaveras counties. Many who came to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Rebuilding Calaveras event are trying to do just that.
But some recovery efforts were put on hold when a temporary cellphone tower was taken down.
“It’s frightening for these folks, they’re not recovered yet,” said Calaveras County Supervisor Cliff Edson.
The temporary towers were put in place after the September fire.
“We’re still in a state of emergency in Calaveras County, so they’re very much needed,” he said.
For their part, AT&T says they informed the county that they were going to discontinue the temporary service.
“AT&T notified Supervisor Chris Wright (District 2) and Supervisor Cliff Edson (District 1) on Jan. 12 that we would discontinue temporary measures that were in place. AT&T did not receive any request for us to extend our services in the region. These services are used for emergencies only, and were not meant to be a permanent part of our infrastructure in the Mountain Ranch area,” AT&T wrote in a statement.
Edson originally told CBS13 that AT&T didn’t give them any warning when the towers were removed, but later said that after searching through his emails he found one from the company.
The additional cellphone tower had been helpful in an area where normally spotty cellphone services meant many people rely on land lines.
“Nobody’s rebuilding yet,” he said. “We haven’t had time to do that with the weather and the cleanup, so we need to communication.”
Hundreds are still out of their homes and 250 people are living in tents. With more wet weather on the way, the threat of flash floods is also a concern and communication is needed.
“Mudslides, rock slides; there’s a lot of problems with the water coming down and washing away what little we do have,” he said.
The board of supervisors has contacted AT&T and expected an answer next week.