We haven't heard the final status of the kid in Portland who threw a firecracker over a cliff along the Columbia River, which started a huge fire. Is the family responsible for the cost of the fire?
— Ron P., Ashland
It's only natural to seek answers to the outcomes of the allegedly human-caused blaze you're referring to, Ron, dubbed the Eagle Creek fire. After all, the latest numbers from Nov. 30 set the cost for fighting the fire at $20 million, with an expectation that federal and state figures will boost it higher — and it excluded the estimated $2 million to $3 million in tourism revenue lost by local businesses because of area closures.
In mid-October, while the fire was still burning, Oregon State Police announced that a Portland juvenile had been arraigned on charges relating to the Eagle Creek fire, including reckless burning, depositing burning materials on forest lands, unlawful possession of fireworks, criminal mischief and recklessly endangering other persons. As is typical for defendants in juvenile court, the 15-year-old boy has not been named. Juveniles tried in adult court are almost always named.
The Hood River County District Attorney's Office and the county's Juvenile Department have declined to release nearly any information about the defendant or upcoming court proceedings. A Nov. 18 Oregonian article reported that the information authorities would not release included details of the investigation, the date of the teen's initial arraignment or of any future court appearances, or the name of the teen's defense attorney. In addition to standard protections for juvenile defendants, officials have said that it's necessary to protect his family (he is the third-oldest in a family of first-and second-generation Ukranian immigrants) from retribution.
The Hood River Juvenile Department told us Thursday that a second court date has not been set, although media can sign up to be notified when it is scheduled. The District Attorney's Office said no further information would be released.
It remains uncertain whether the teen or his family would be ordered to pay partial or full restitution. Others who have been found guilty of negligently or deliberately starting wildfires have been on the hook for those costs, including a Warm Springs resident who was ordered by a federal judge to pay $7.9 million for starting a 51,480-acre fire in 2013. That was in addition a one-and-a-half-year prison sentence, three years of supervised release and 200 hours of mandated community service to help repair the burned area.
For now, however, we're all still waiting on the final result of the Eagle Creek fire, which burned 48,831 acres, destroyed three houses and threatened an additional 5,000 structures.
The Eagle Creek fire was declared 100 percent contained Nov. 30, although the U.S. Forest Service would not declare the fire "out" until all the fuel within the existing perimeter was no longer a smoldering hazard. A spokeswoman for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area was not available Thursday for comment on when, or whether, the fire was officially declared "out." The Oregon Department of Transportation's website says that part of the Columbia River Highway and State Trail remain closed from Bridal Veil to Hood River.
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