The teenager responsible for sparking last year’s massive wildfires in the Pacific Northwest is being ordered to pay more than $36 million in restitution.
Known as the Eagle Creek fire, the manmade disaster started when a group of adolescents tried entertaining themselves alongside a mountain gorge. One boy, oblivious to any apparent danger, tossed a lit firework into the wooded canyon bellow.
A video later obtained by law enforcement showed the precursor to disaster – a gaggle of giggling teenagers watching a plume of smoke begin rising toward them.
The subsequent fire, writes the Washington Post, ignited dry brush and burned about 48,000 acres of forest. Recreational facilities throughout the Columbia River Gorge were scorched; several rental homes were reduced to rubble. Firefighters and emergency services spent ‘at least’ $18 million fighting the blaze, managing to contain it only in November.
Infrastructure wasn’t spared, either. In addition to endangering popular local landmarks, the Eagle Creek fire ‘destroyed the Oneota Tunnel on the Historic Columbia River Highway.’ Tracts of Interstate 84 closed for a week and hundreds of people from the surrounding countryside had to evacuate their homes.
In the tourist center of Cascade Locks, ‘businesses took an estimated hit of more than $2 million,’ per the Oregonian.
Hood River County Circuit Judge John A. Olson issued his verdict Monday, acknowledging in his opinion that the teenager wouldn’t be able to pay $36 million in restitution. He said the penalty was proportionate to the damages incurred by the teenager, who admitted in February to eight counts of reckless burning of public and private property.
The Post reports that, in addition to restitution, the teen has been sentenced to five years’ probation and 1920 hours of community service with the U.S. Forest Service.
The boy’s mother said he’s struggling with ‘trauma’ from the fallout but admits the fire was “his mistake.”
“Every day I think about this terrible decision and its awful consequences,” the boy said in court earlier this year. “I know I will have to live with my bad decision for the rest of my life.”
He’ll have to pay for the damages, too – at least whichever portion of them he can realistically afford. The staggering $36 million in restitution is so high that the teenager’s attorneys argued that it amounts to “cruel and unusual” punishment.
If the restitution were paid in full, $21 million would be disbursed to the U.S. Forest Service, $12.5 million to the Oregon Department of Transportation and more than $1.6 million to the Oregon State Fire Marshal. Other amounts, ranging from a million to several thousand, would be allotted to the Union Pacific Railroad, Oregon’s state parks, Allstate Insurance, and a woman who lost her home to the flames.
Judge Olson said the teenager has the option of subscribing to a payment plan. If he successfully completes his probation, the restitution could be reduced and terminated after ten years.