Decision on restitution for teen who set Eagle Creek Fire expected as early as Friday

FILE -- The human-caused Eagle Creek fire burned 49,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge last year. (File Photo: Tristan Fortsch/ Staff)

A judge will make a decision on whether a Vancouver teenager will have to pay back restitution for setting the Eagle Creek Fire as early as Friday.

So far, 11 claims have been filed for just under $37 million in restitution:

The U.S. Forest Service is seeking $21,113,755 in payments, the Oregon Department of Transportation, $12.5 million, the Oregon State Fire Marshal, $1.6 million, Union Pacific Railroad, close to $1 million, the Trail Club Oregon, $168,000 and Oregon State Parks, just over $31,550.

Other requests from private homeowners and insurance companies are seeking $235,000.

The judge said he won't make a decision on the case until Friday at the earliest because he'll be studying the "constitutionality" of the restitution amount.

The teenager's lawyer, Jack Morris, was in Hood River County court Thursday morning representing the boy and arguing he was indigent. Morris said the boy's restitution should be significantly lower, close to the $100,000 range.

The request did not sit well with two fire evacuees, Paul Smith and Martha Lamont.

Smith, a Washington resident, was forced to evacuate early Labor Day morning when an ember from the Eagle Creek Fire flew across the Columbia River and ignited the hillside near his home. He raced to rescue his horses, one of which had never been trailered before.

"That coupled with the smoke damage from our place," Smith said, "the stress was too much for her, and we had to put her down two days later."

Smith did not file a claim, but attended Thursday's hearing.

"He still probably not going to be able to pay this. That’s not the point," Smith said. "The point is, he has got to be held accountable."

Lamont, a Cascade Locks resident, feels similarly.

"Cascade Locks is greatly affected by this fire, probably more so than any other community," she said. "I think he should be thinking about this every day for years, like everyone in our town has to."

In February, the 15-year-old admitted to eight counts of reckless burning of public and private property, two counts of depositing burning material on forest land, one count of second-degree mischief and one count of recklessly endangering hikers.

He was sentenced to five years probation and must complete 1,920 hours of community service, in addition to other requirements.

Lamont says she was not surprised only 11 claims were filed. She says most of her friends did not bother because they did not want to go through the hassle and didn't expect to receive any money.

The fire and its aftermath have cost around $40 million.

People who believe that they have a claim for restitution in this case can mail information regarding their financial loss to the Hood River County Juvenile Department at 309 State St., Hood River, OR 97031.

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