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Fire starter sentenced to prison

PORTLAND — A woman who set a massive wildfire on Oregon tribal lands to give her firefighter friends work has been sentenced to more than a year in prison.

Sadie Renee Johnson said in U.S. District Court in Portland on Wednesday that she suffered from alcohol and drug issues, and she promised Judge Marco Hernandez she would turn her life around. She was also ordered to perform 200 hours of community service in the fire-damaged area.

“You owe them much more than that,” Hernandez told her.

Johnson, of Warm Springs, pleaded guilty in May to one count of starting brush and timber on fire. As she was riding in a car with two little brothers in July 2013, she lit a small firework and threw it out the window, where it ignited brush, court records say.

Johnson was arrested days after posting on Facebook, “Like my fire?” She later said she started the fire to give work to her firefighter friends, who she said were bored.

The fire spread to about 80 square miles and cost nearly $8 million to put out.

Johnson was surprised the fire grew to the size it did, she said in court, where about 10 members of her family waved to her before she was led out of the courtroom.

“Time cannot be reversed nor choices taken back once made,” Johnson said in a prepared statement to the judge. “I will not be making this mistake twice.”

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to a recommendation that Johnson spend 18 months in prison, followed by 180 days of alcohol and drug treatment. The maximum sentence is five years in prison, plus a $250,000 fine.

Hernandez said he was taking Johnson’s previous struggles with alcohol into account when sentencing her. He noted that she had been in substance abuse in-patient programs four times, the most recent time this year, and hoped that she would not stop trying to get sober.

“I’m going to keep an eye on you,” Hernandez said. “You cannot afford to test this court. The stakes are too high.”