Fires

Teen must pay $36M for starting massive Oregon fire. His lawyer calls sum 'absurd'

Timelapse video shows spread of wildfire in Columbia River Gorge

This dramatic timelapse video shows how a raging wildfire takes hold in the Columbia River Gorge, 52 miles east of Portland, Oregon. The video was shot between 5 p.m. Monday and 5 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4-5, 2017.
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This dramatic timelapse video shows how a raging wildfire takes hold in the Columbia River Gorge, 52 miles east of Portland, Oregon. The video was shot between 5 p.m. Monday and 5 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4-5, 2017.

A Washington teenager is on the hook for more than $36 million after admitting he started a fire in Oregon last September that burned nearly 49,000 acres of popular hiking land over two months.

But a lawyer for the boy, who was 15 years old when he started the Eagle Creek Fire, called the restitution order "absurd" and unconstitutional, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Judge John Olson considered defense attorney Jack Morris' concerns, but ultimately concluded in a decision released Monday morning that the $36 million figure "bears a sufficient relationship to the gravity of the offenses for which the youth was adjudicated."

When the fire first started last year, accounts of "giggling teens" throwing firecrackers into a dry canyon sparked outrage. Some called for harsh punishment for the culprits, while others argued their youth pardoned some of their behavior, later deemed "reckless" by Oregon courts.

The teen, who has not been identified, is considered indigent, Morris said. He argued for a restitution amount "that his client could more plausibly pay back," OPB reported. Olson said after 10 years, the teenager will no longer have to pay the restitution, provided he complies with the terms of his probation. That includes 1,920 hours of community service with the Forest Service, as well as apology letters to first responders and the 150-plus people trapped on trails when the fire started, among others.

A wildfire in Oregon grew and spread into Washington on Tuesday, September 5. The Eagle Creek Fire was threatening homes and had closed down 40 miles of I-84. The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office issued an updated list of mandatory evacuations Mo

The total restitution is split between nine parties, the bulk of it ($21 million) going to the Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Transportation ($12.5 million).

The teen boy ultimately admitted to eight counts of reckless burning, two counts of depositing burning material on forest land, one count of second-degree mischief and one count of recklessly endangering hikers, the Oregonian reported.

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