Sadie Renee Johnson, 23, from Warm Springs, Oregon admitted to starting a wildfire on July 2013 by tossing a firework out of a car window that she was riding in. According to Bend Bulletin, the fire spread and burned more than 51,000 acres of timber and brush.
Johnson admitted that she tossed the firework at about 9:15 am. The fire was discovered within 15 minutes but was not contained immediately due to the strong winds. As a result, it spread to other areas on the reservation. Residents and visitors had to be evacuated for three days from 40 homes and the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort & Spa located near the fire. Reports indicate that no structures were damaged from the wildfire.
Johnson stated that she started the fire because her firefighter friends were bored and needed work. She also said that she did not expect the fire to grow so quickly and affect a large land area, and thought that the fire would burn for a short time and can be completely put out after only two days.
Two days after the Warm Springs fire started, Johnson posted on her Facebook account saying, “like my fire?” She was arrested and taken into custody a few days after the post.
With high temperatures, the fire grew more and more throughout the week. There were more than 800 firefighters working in order to try to contain the flames. Oregon Live reports that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had to spend $7.9 million, and it took two months for the firefighters and authorities to completely control the flames. The fire, later called the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire, started on July 20. It was contained on August 13, but it wasn’t decaled out until September 13.
Johnson entered a guilty plea and she is due for sentencing on September 3. She is facing a maximum of 5 years in prison on top of a $250,000 fine for starting the Warm Springs fire. Under a plea agreement, the defense is recommending 18 months in prison, but the judge will have the final say. Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said, “intentionally starting a wildfire has severe consequences as Ms. Johnson learned.”
In addition to jail time and the fine, Johnson is also being asked to pay full restitution. Johnson is currently being held at the Columbia County Jail while waiting for her sentencing next month. According to news reports, Johnson’s case has been given top priority by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Justice.
[Image via Katu]