An Oregon teen who accidentally started a massive wildfire by playing with fireworks in the Columbia River Gorge must repay the $36 million it cost to put out the blaze, a judge ruled this week.
On Monday, Hood River County Circuit Judge John A. Olson ruled that the 15-year-old must repay a total of $36,618,330.24 to a number of victims including the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Transportation, the Associated Press noted. The boy had previously admitted that he threw fireworks into the Eagle Creek Canyon gorge back in September, sparking a fire that led to evacuations and burned more than 48,000 acres in Mount Hood National Forest.
The Oregon wildfire damaged a popular tourist area, with the U.S. Forest Service saying that 121 miles of national forest trails were damaged, King 5 News reported. The fire also stranded a group of hikers, who had to be rescued.
The teenager had already pleaded guilty to reckless burning of public and private property, the Associated Press reported. He was sentenced to community service and probation and also wrote more than 150 apology letters to people affected by the fire.
“I sincerely apologize to everyone who had to deal with this fire, I cannot imagine how scary it must have been for you,” the teen wrote in a letter earlier this year that was shared on Twitter. “I know I have to earn your forgiveness and I will work hard to do so and one day, I hope I will.”
The majority of the restitution — $21.1 million in total — will be repaid to the U.S. Forest Service. It also includes $12.5 million to the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The teen’s role in the start of the blaze remained controversial, and authorities withheld his identity so he could not be targeted, the Associated Press reported. He was referred to as A.B. in court documents.
The teen’s lawyer had argued in court that it was unconstitutional to require that juvenile make a full restitution payment, though the judge ultimately ruled against this argument. This argument led to a delay in the judge’s ruling following the teen’s guilty plea early this year.
It is unlikely that the 15-year-old boy who started the wildfire will be able to pay back the entire $36 million, the Associated Press noted. The judge noted that his restitution will be over after 10 years if he is able to follow the rules of his probation and complies with the rules of his repayment plan.