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Teen Accidentally Starts Fire, Now Owes $36,631,687.10

Judge rejects 'cruel and unusual' argument from attorney over Eagle Creek fire in Oregon
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 21, 2018 3:33 PM CDT
In this photo taken Oct. 8, 2017, the Columbia River Gorge near Cascade Locks, Ore., is viewed. The photo was taken from a helicopter over a month after the Eagle Creek fire first erupted Sept. 2, 2017.   (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP)
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(Newser) – Last September, a 15-year-old tossed fireworks on a hot day in the forest and inadvertently set off a massive wildfire that burned 48,000 acres in Oregon. Now he's learned the price he must pay, and it's incredible: a grand total of $36,631,687.10 to various entities, including the US Forest Service, reports the Hood River News. The teen's attorney argued that the penalty amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, but the judge in the case took a few days to assess things and decided that the punishment is warranted, reports KGW.com. The judge ordered the Hood River Juvenile Department to set up a payment schedule, though he added one caveat to the ruling that might eventually give the kid a break.

"The court can grant a full or partial satisfaction of the restitution judgment after 10 years" if certain conditions are met—mainly, if the teen doesn't get into any more trouble and faithfully makes what payments he can over the next decade. At that point, another judge will reassess and could decide that the debt is paid, even if it's nowhere near $37 million. On top of the financial penalty, the Vancouver, Wash., teen must complete about 2,000 hours of community service. He pleaded guilty earlier this year and wrote a letter of apology for his "careless action" that apparently did little to mitigate the sentence. The fire burned through the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood National Forest, and a group of hikers required rescue. (A witness says she saw the teen throw a "smoke bomb" into a ravine.)

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