The Slatest

Teenager Who Started Oregon Wildfire Ordered to Pay $36 Million in Restitution

A waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge
A waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area before the wildfire.
Natalie Behring/Getty Images

A judge has ordered a teenager who started a massive wildfire in Oregon by throwing fireworks down a gorge to pay more than $36 million in restitution, according to the Oregonian.

The boy, a 15-year-old from Vancouver, Washington, sparked a fire in Columbia River Gorge in September with two fireworks. The 75-square-mile fire, one of many at the time in Oregon, blanketed Portland in ash and clogged the city’s air with smoke. Houses were evacuated, but it was the damage to an iconic, ecologically valuable tourist destination that so infuriated locals they threatened the boy with sterilization, whipping, and even lynching. The authorities have withheld the boy’s name in official documents to protect him.

In Monday’s ruling, the judge acknowledged that it was unlikely the teenager would ever be able to pay the $36.6 million fee, which is to go toward the costs of firefighting and the restoration of the gorge as well as to pay damages to the homeowners. The teenager might not be trapped in debt forever, as the judge said the payments could stop after 10 years if he complies with the payment plans, completes his five years of probation, and commits no other crimes.

According to the Associated Press, the Oregon Department of Revenue will be able to garnish the boy’s paychecks, and it can also take any tax returns. The judge said the largest payment demanded of a juvenile he could find before this case was $114,000.

The teenager’s lawyer, according to the Oregonian, called the ruling “absurd” and “absolutely silly.” The boy, who pleaded guilty to reckless burning of public and private property, was also sentenced in February to 1,920 hours of community service with the U.S. Forest Service, and he was ordered to write apology letters to 152 people trapped on the trail at the time of the fire as well as to the city of Cascade Locks, Oregon State Parks, and the Forest Service, among others.