Onlookers watch the Eagle Creek Fire burn in the Columbia River Gorge in September 2017. Photo: InciWeb Incident Information System
Environment | Law

Teen ordered to apologize to treaty tribes for starting massive fire

A 15-year-old boy has been ordered to apologize to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission for starting a massive fire that endangered treaty and cultural resources along the Columbia River.

The teen also was ordered to pay $36 million for causing the Eagle Creek Fire, which consumed 49,000-acre acres in the Columbia Gorge last September. Though the judge acknowledged he can't pay the amount, his attorney called the amount "absurd" and "absolutely silly," The Oregonian reported.

Tribes, however, will not be getting any money that the teen and his family might be able to pay. A breakdown posted by The Oregonian shows restitution going to the state of Oregon, the U.S. Forest Service and other parties whose property suffered damage during the fire, which wasn't 100 percent contained until November 30, The Washington Post reported, citing records from InciWeb Incident Information System.

The boy pleaded guilty in February for starting the fire, The Oregonian reported at the time. He was playing with fireworks and a witness told the paper that she could hear him and other teens giggling about it while they filmed the incident.

"I want to express how sorry I am for what I did. I know a lot of people suffered because of a bad decision that I made," the teen said in a statement in Hood River County Court in February, The Oregonian reported.

The Warm Springs Tribes and members of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission have treaty-guaranteed rights to fish along the Columbia River. The fire forced evacuations of treaty sites and prompted concerns about fall fishing runs, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported last September.

“There is a lot that is unknown about how the fish and the river are going to respond, but we have a lot of scientific research that shows there are some predictable things that we can expect,” Seth White, a watershed ecologist with Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, told KATU as the fire was still burning last fall.

In addition to Warm Springs, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Yakama Nation hold treaty rights along the Columbia.

Read More on the Story:
Judge orders Eagle Creek fire starter to pay over $36M, acknowledges teen can't pay full sum (The Oregonian May 21, 2018)
Teen who started massive Oregon wildfire with fireworks must pay $36 million, judge rules (The Washington Post May 21, 2018)
Judge: Teen must pay $37M for Gorge fire (The Associated Press May 21, 2018)
Lawyer for Eagle Creek fire starter says $36m in restitution 'absurd' (The Oregonian May 17, 2018)