Eagle Creek Fire Verdict - Here's my statement concerning today's court hearing concerning the teen who started the Eagle Creek Fire.
I feel that this is fair and I'll tell you why.
I have been as angry as anyone about this. I think that you all know that. I have family and friends in Cascade Locks and the Stevenson area who were affected directly by this fire. The fire will ultimately cost me money as my guide business in the gorge is, essentially, shut down. I have a lot to be angry about.
With that being said, I must remove the vitriol, vindictiveness and emotion from my thinking to see this logically. This, I feel, is what the law is required to do in these emotional cases. The job of that judge was to put all emotional arguments aside while all of the facts are considered.
Prior to this day we've had some lively discussions about this on my Facebook page. Some have called for extremely severe punishment while others want to pass it off as just a bad decision by a child who didn't know any better.
The consensus seemed to be to have this teen serve a ton of community service working to correct what he spoiled and to have him serve some sort of probation. That's just what he received. It was also the maximum that the judge could rule in a juvenile court.
The hearing scheduled in May to determine restitution will be nothing more than a formality and nothing less than a lesson in futility if collection from the family is expected. The cost of fighting the fire is close to $20,000,000 and each person who was affected by the fire has a right to sue the family for up to $7500 each in damages. This will all go unpaid and the cost of fighting the fire will be paid for by the taxpayer.
This teen will receive almost 2000 hours in community service working directly with the US Forest Service. It is my hope that during this 2000 hours he will find a mentor who will direct his attention to the importance of conservation as well as community. If we can trust the system these things will be addressed during his time serving the community.
Although the letter of apology was finely crafted, or at least refined by his lawyers, I believe him. I believe that he understands now the enormity of his actions. I feel that he truly realizes that his actions can affect so many more than just himself.
It is my reasoning that if the system would have sent this teen to a jail situation he would come out bitter. I'm hoping that his sentence of community service and monitoring through the probation system that he will come out of this a better human than he would have otherwise.
It's now time to heal. It's time to heal our anger. It's time to heal the losses that those who have been affected have felt. It's time now to heal the Columbia River Gorge and go forward in the future with an increased level of awareness of how fragile this land is and how easily we all affect the land when we recreate there.