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15-year-old accused of starting Eagle Creek Fire charged with misdemeanors

The human-caused Eagle Creek Fire grew from 3,200 acres early Monday to 4,800 acres by the end of the day. It forced the Oregon Department of Transportation to close Interstate 84 in both directions between Hood River and Troutdale. Photo by Tristan Fortsch

The 15-year-old boy accused of starting the massive Eagle Creek Fire is charged with multiple misdemeanors in the case.

Authorities are still not releasing his name.

The Hood River County District Attorney's Office announced on Thursday that the suspect recently faced a judge in the case.

The district attorney did not say when the boy was arraigned on a juvenile court petition and did not give dates for future court hearings or say whether the boy was in custody.

KATU has learned none of the crimes mentioned in the announcement from the DA's office are felonies, nor are they considered Measure 11 crimes, which means, at this point, the boy can't be tried as an adult.

Prosecutors said the boy faces allegations including reckless burning, depositing burning materials on forest lands, unlawful possession of fireworks, criminal mischief and recklessly endangering other persons.

Authorities believe the boy, who's from Vancouver, started the Eagle Creek Fire on Sept. 2.

A witness said that day she saw him lobbing smoke bombs into a ravine.

The fire continues to smolder and as of Oct. 13 was 50 percent contained. So far it's burned 76 square miles, devastating treasured hiking trails and well-known landmarks.

KATU spoke with Elizabeth Arwood, a local juvenile criminal defense attorney, about what kind of sentence she thinks the boy could face, though she's not directly involved with the case.

"Technically, he could face some time in juvenile detention," Arwood explained, "potentially a year or six months in detention."

Arwood said the court will likely also consider whether the boy's been in legal trouble before. She said he could potentially get detention time, community service and there could be an educational component like having to write apology letters.

In the past Oregon State Police (OSP) reportedly said the boy's identity was hidden due to safety concerns.

But on Thursday, Sgt. Kaipo Raiser, an OSP spokesman, said, "OSP as a normal course of business does not release the names of juveniles unless it is a matter of public safety or risk to the juvenile."

Raiser sent KATU a document listing several threatening statements against the suspect that he said were found on social media.

“The legal file can be public record," Arwood said regarding information in a juvenile criminal case. "What can be released is someone’s name, their date of birth, the basis for jurisdiction, the time and place of juvenile court proceedings."

Michael Lang, the conservation director for the group, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, declined to say what he thought of the charges filed in the case.

"Whatever the outcome of these charges are it's not going to change the fact that the Eagle Creek Fire burned nearly 49,000 acres," Lang said. "But within that there are a lot of intact, healthy forests that are still left. What we wanna help do, in effect, is what we actually have some impact over and that's helping communities recover and helping the Gorge recover."

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