'You can't financially quantify the damage he's done': How much should teen pay for fire?

Photo of the Eagle Creek Fire taken from the Bonneville Dam courtesy Steven McCarthy

HOOD RIVER, Ore. (AP) — A judge deciding how much restitution a teenager must pay for starting a huge wildfire in the Columbia River Gorge said Thursday he needs time to review the matter and will issue a written ruling.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports 11 requests for restitution totaling almost $37 million have been submitted to the court. At a hearing Thursday, the lawyer for the 15-year-old defendant urged Hood River County Judge John Olson to impose a "reasonable and rational" amount of restitution.

Ordering a boy who is indigent to pay $37 million, "frankly is on its face absurd," said attorney Jack Morris.

The teen from Vancouver, Washington, did not attend the hearing. He pleaded guilty in February to reckless burning of public and private property and other charges. Olson sentenced him to community service and probation, and the boy had to write more than 150 letters of apology.

The teen said he threw one firework that exploded in the air along a trail and a second one that had a longer fuse and ignited brush when it hit the ground. The flames spread quickly, forcing evacuations and the extended shutdown of a major interstate highway. The fire also closed popular hiking trails.

"I get to look at torched Angel's Rest every day. It will never be the same," farmer Paul Smith said before the hearing, referring to a bluff. "You can't financially quantify the damage he's done."

The U.S. Forest Service is seeking $21 million in payments and the Oregon Department of Transportation wants $12.5 million. The other requests for restitution range from $4,563 to $1.6 million.

The judge said he has reviewed prior juvenile restitution cases in Oregon, and the largest amount he could find was for $114,000.

"It is an extraordinary amount of restitution being sought," Olson said.


Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive,

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