Teenager who started massive Oregon wildfire ordered to pay $37 million

Blaze triggered evacuations, shutdown of highway and devastation to tourist attraction

Tom Embury-Dennis
Tuesday 22 May 2018 14:17 BST
Aerial footage shows 2017 Oregon wildfire teen has been fined $37 million for starting

A teenager who started a a massive wildfire has been ordered to pay $37m (£27m).

The 15-year-old from Vancouver, Washington, launched fireworks into a canyon in Oregon last year, igniting dry bush and triggering a blaze that lasted two months, spreading over more than 48,000 acres.

The fire caused evacuations, an extended shutdown of a major interstate highway and devastation to Columbia River Gorge, a major outdoor tourist attraction.

Judge John A Olson issued the fine, which covers the cost of firefighting, repair and restoration to the gorge and damage to homes, and ordered the boy to serve 1,920 hours of community service. Victims include the US Forest Service and Oregon‘s Department of Transportation.

The judge ruled the teenager could set up a payment plan, which could be halted without paying the fine in full after 10 years, as long as he completed his five years of probation and did not commit any other crimes.

At a hearing last week, the boy’s lawyer urged a “reasonable and rational” penalty, calling the $37m sought an “absurd” amount for the child.

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The restitution is solely the responsibility of the teen, and not his parents, who came to the US from Ukraine.

Mr Olson called it “an extraordinary amount”, and then deferred on a separate restitution order because he wanted more time to review the case. The judge said the largest figure he could find for prior juvenile restitution cases in Oregon was $114,000.

In February, the teenager pleaded guilty to reckless burning of public and private property and other charges. Mr Olson sentenced him to community service and probation, and the boy had to write more than 150 letters of apology to those affected by the fire, that burnt 75 square miles.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area attracts more than 3 million tourists a year and holds North America’s largest concentration of waterfalls. The fast-moving blaze ravaged popular hiking trails and marred stunning vistas.

State law allows the Oregon Department of Revenue to take money from the teen’s bank accounts or paychecks. If he is due refunds on his tax returns, the state could take those. If he wins the lottery, the state also could collect all of his winnings.

Anger at the boy was so intense that authorities withheld his name to protect his safety.

Additional reporting by AP

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