Judge orders teen charged for starting Eagle Creek Fire to pay $36.6M in restitution

Photo of the Eagle Creek Fire taken on Wednesday, September 13, 2017. Photo by Leah Smith

A Hood River County Circuit Court judge ordered the teen responsible for starting the Eagle Creek Fire to pay more than $36.6 million in restitution to cover the damage caused by the fire.

A judge was expected to make a decision on the restitution on Thursday, May 17, but delayed his decision in order to review the constitutionality of issuing such a large fine on the minor.

The boy’s attorney argued that the more than $36.6 million in restitution would violate the Oregon and U.S. constitutions because it is inflicting “cruel and unusual punishment” and that the restitution should be considered “excessive fines imposed.” The attorney was referring to Article I, section 16 of the Oregon Constitution and the 14th Amendment.

The original proposed amount of restitution was $36,631,687.10, but the judge decided to remove two requests from individuals, lowering the restitution amount to $36,618,330.24.

“In short, I’m satisfied that the restitution ordered in this case bears a sufficient relationship to the gravity of the offenses for which the youth was adjudicated,” the judge said in a memorandum opinion setting the restitution.

The Eagle Creek Fire started on Sept. 2, 2017 and destroyed approximately 48,000 acres of forest land in the Columbia River Gorge. The teen was 15 years old when he tossed a couple of fireworks into brush while hiking on the Eagle Creek Trail. One of the fireworks ignited the fire.

The following companies, organizations and individual will be receiving restitution:

  • $5,000 to Iris Schenk
  • $8,111.44 to Allstate Insurance
  • $31,550.90 to Oregon State Parks
  • $100,000 to Heuker Properties
  • $168,000 to Trail Club of Oregon
  • $1,048,877.52 to Union Pacific Railroad
  • $1,643,035.38 to Oregon State Fire Marshall
  • $12,500,000 to Oregon Department of Transportation
  • $21,113,755 to U.S. Forest Service

Iris Schenk's home was destroyed by the wildfire.

Brenda Wood lives and works in Cascade Locks. She says nearly everyone in town was affected by the fire which "changed her life forever."

Wood had to close her hot dog and ice cream shop, Locks of Dogs and Treats, for 20 days. Along with lost business, she said the fire's smoke ruined her husband's health. He had already been dealing with lung cancer.

"The poor air and everything, shut down his bronchial tubes. Now he's on oxygen and everything. He can no longer work," said Wood.

In his opinion, the judge acknowledged the teen could not pay the full $36 million. He ordered the court to establish a payment schedule. The judge also wrote that they could grant full or partial satisfaction of the restitution after 10 years as long as the teen doesn't violate probation, break any more laws, and complies with the payment plan.

Most people in Cascade Locks could have put in for restitution if they wanted to, Wood says. She estimates it would have been $150,000 to $200,000 for her. However, she said it would not be worth it to ask for restitution considering the teen can't pay the full $36 million.

READ MORE | Woman's home destroyed by Eagle Creek Fire: 'My mom wants to go back to get closure'

Moving forward, Wood wants to see the teen come to Cascade Locks and apologize in person.

Wood said, "Why don't you come and show your face. I don't think anyone is going to hurt you. Just say, 'Hey, how can I make your day better?' Maybe just put my chairs out, maybe I just want to know that you care about what you did to my life."

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