Teen fined £27m for Oregon forest fire

Eagle Creek wildfire started by firecracker destroyed 48,000 acres

Oregon Eagle Creek wildfire
A photograph taken by the US Forest Service shows the Eagle Creek wildfire raging on 4 September 2017
(Image credit: US Forest Service)

A teenage boy faces a fine of $36.6m (£27m) for starting a fire which ultimately consumed almost 50,000 acres of land.

The unidentified teenager, from Washington state, was hiking in neighbouring Oregon with friends on a popular woodland route known as Eagle Creek Trail last September when he tossed firecrackers into a canyon.

Fuelled by high winds, the resulting fire spread into a vast blaze, “destroying homes and trails in the gorge” says local broadcaster OPB. “It also forced businesses to close, displaced people for days and shut down both Interstate 84 and the Historic Columbia River Highway.”

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The Eagle Creek wildfire raged for almost three months before emergency personnel were able to contain it, ultimately swallowing up more than 48,000 acres of land, including cherished beauty spots in the scenic Columbia River Gorge.

“Our hearts are breaking,” Oregon state representative Deborah Kafoury told CNN at the time. “The Gorge is Oregon's crown jewel.”

The teen, aged 15 at the time of the incident, was given probation in February after pleading guilty to 12 charges in criminal court.

He then became the target of a civil suit, with 11 organisations and individuals filing claims against the youngster for tens of millions of dollars in damages.

The boy’s lawyer “argued the restitution amount was unconstitutional” and “absurd”, KPTV reports.

However, on Monday Judge John A. Olson upheld nine of the claims, saying he was “satisfied that the restitution ordered in this case bears a sufficient relationship to the gravity of the offences”.

The total sum of the requested damages comes to $36.6m, with the biggest payout, $21.1m (£15.7m), awarded to the US Forest Service.

Recognising that it was unlikely that the boy would be able to repay the sum, the judge said that a court may rescind the repayment requirement after ten years if he abides by all the terms of his probation.

Those requirements include “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”, the Idaho Statesman reports.

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