Teen Is Main Suspect in Raging Oregon Wildfire

Witness says she saw him throw a firecracker into canyon
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 6, 2017 11:20 AM CDT
A Teen, a Ravine, a Firecracker May Have Been a Ruinous Mix
Fire burns in the Eagle Creek area of the Columbia River Gorge on Saturday.   (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP)

A wildfire that started over the weekend in Oregon torched at least 10,000 acres, stranded more than 150 hikers, and forced the evacuation of multiple towns—and officials think a teen fooling around with firecrackers may be to blame. The Columbian reports that a 15-year-old boy from Vancouver, Wash., has been named a suspect but not arrested in the Eagle Creek fire that sparked on Saturday. A Portland woman witnessed the scene and sounded the alarm, she tells Oregon Public Broadcasting. Liz FitzGerald was hiking to Punch Bowl Falls on Saturday when she came across a group of young people and "saw this kid throw a smoke bomb" into a ravine. She admonished the kids but forged ahead, only to reconsider. "If I get stuck in a wildfire because I was so determined to get to this watering hole, I would feel like a total idiot," she tells Willamette Week.

She doubled back, and as she passed the spot where she'd seen the group, she saw "billowing smoke" and "could distinctly smell fire." She says she then came upon the teens and told them they had started a forest fire. She says one shot back, "Well, what are we supposed to do about it now?" FitzGerald notified a US Forest Service official, who she says apprehended the teens' minivan. FitzGerald, though, doesn't think the one who tossed the firecracker should bear sole responsibility for the group's "complacency. ... All of them watched, all of them did nothing." Oregon State Police are looking for more witnesses to help them determine their next move. Late Tuesday night, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office indicated on Twitter that the fire "has slowed way down for now." (More firecrackers stories.)

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