According to Oregon's John A. Olson, a Hood River County Circuit Judge, it cost $36 million to start a wildfire. Last year, a group of teenagers were causing trouble around a dangerously dry canyon off a hiking trail, when one of them threw some lit fireworks into the park. On top of this, his friends filmed it.
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What followed was one of the worst wildfires Oregon has ever seen. It’s now known as the Eagle Creek fire, which burned for two months through the Columbia River Gorge, covering over 48,000 acres and threatening 5,000 homes and buildings. It started by igniting dry brush, but spread to landmarks like Multnomah Falls to the Historic Columbia River Highway’s Oneonta Tunnel, forcing hundreds of Oregonians to evacuate their homes and closing Interstate 84 for over a week.
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When all the damage was done, they found that the disaster cost the firefighters up to $20 million and that local businesses lost over $2 million. The judge factored these numbers into the ordered restitution, which included $21 million on behalf of the US Forest Service, $12.5 million to the Oregon Department of Transportation, over $1.6 million to the Oregon State Fire Marshal, and over $1 million to Union Pacific Railroad, as well as some smaller amounts to Oregon State Parks, Allstate Insurance and one of the victims who lost their home.
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The teenager, whose attorneys feel the $36 million is too much, admitted to eight counts of reckless burning of public and private property, two counts of depositing burning material on forest land, and other counts of second-degree criminal mischief and recklessly endangering an individual. He will serve five years probation, almost 2,000 hours of community service with the US Forest Service, and has been ordered to write 152 apology letters to all of the victims.
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