Judge fines 15-year-old boy $36.6M for starting Columbia River Gorge wildfire
(Courthouse News Service) The 15-year-old boy who admitted sparking a massive wildfire in the Columbia River Gorge by lobbing firecrackers into a ravine won’t serve any jail time, but he will have to pay a $36.6 million restitution bill that his lawyer called unconstitutional and “absurd.”
The boy, who has not been identified in court records, was sentenced in February to five years of probation and 1,900 hours of community service. On Monday, Hood River County Circuit Court Judge John A. Olson added restitution to his punishment, finding that the fine was justified by “juvenile delinquency goals of ‘personal responsibility, accountability and reformation within the context of public safety.’”
“In short, I’m satisfied that the restitution ordered in this case bears a sufficient relationship to the gravity of the offenses for which the youth was adjudicated,” Olson wrote. “I am satisfied that the restitution scheme does not ‘shock the moral sense of reasonable people.’”
Olson asked the Hood River Juvenile Department to set up a payment schedule. He also wrote the court could grant a full or partial satisfaction after 10 years if the boy keeps up with his payments, completes his probation requirements and doesn’t commit additional crimes.
The money will go to nine parties, including $21 million to the U.S. Forest Service, $12.5 million to Oregon Department of Transportation and $1.6 million to the Oregon State Fire Marshal.
The fire started on Sunday afternoon of Labor Day weekend. It quickly spread over the steep slopes of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, jumped the mile-wide river and plunged the entire Willamette Valley under a blanket of smoke. Eventually, nearly 50,000 acres burned.
On the day it ignited, the fire trapped 152 hikers overnight – all of whom emerged unscathed – and threatened both the power and water supply for the nearby Portland metro area.