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Teen Ordered to Pay $36 Million After Starting Massive Wildfire with Fireworks

The judge acknowledged that the 15-year-old probably doesn't have that kind of cash, though.

by River Donaghey
May 22 2018, 4:06pm

Teenagers have been doing dumb, rebellious shit ever since the first organism said "fuck you, Mom and Dad" and dragged itself out of the primordial ooze to set off on dry land. Most of them manage to avoid doing lasting damage before their brains finish congealing and they realize that maybe it wasn't such a great idea to dress up like scary bushes or impersonate that police officer or whatever—but not all dumbass teens get so lucky.

One such unlucky 15-year-old in Oregon, for example, has just been ordered to pay $36.6 million after he accidentally started a massive wildfire playing with fireworks last September, the Oregonian reports.

The teen was reportedly dicking around with some friends near Eagle Creek Canyon on the Columbia River Gorge last September when his illegal fireworks sparked a blaze in the parched forest. The flames quickly spread, eventually destroying nearly 50,000 acres and dumping ash across the nearby city of Portland.

Liz FitzGerald, a hiker who witnessed the boy and his friends giggle as he lobbed a smoke bomb and ignited the fire, told the Oregonian last year that he seemed to have no idea what he had done in the moment.

"I said, 'Do you realize you just started a forest fire?' And the kid who had been filming with his cellphone said, 'But what are we supposed to do about it now?' And I said, 'Call the fricking fire department!'"

"There was complete indifference," she continued. "It was weird. I was just like, 'You're not getting this on any level. You're not getting this at all.'"

He probably gets it now. On Monday, Judge John A. Olsen ordered the teen, whose name has not been released, to pay a total of $36,618,330 in restitution to the victims of the wildfire, including residents who lost their homes, as well as state and federal departments who battled the blaze. Although Olsen acknowledged that, well, the kid will probably never be able to repay that huge amount in full, the multimillion-dollar bill "is clearly proportionate to the offense because it does not exceed the financial damages caused by the youth," he wrote in his opinion.

The teen's lawyer, Jack Morris, told the Oregonian that, while its true that the wildfire caused what is likely tens of millions in damage, "it's difficult to imagine anything more pointless then ordering an adolescent to pay $36 million in restitution."

Along with the huge bill, the teen will have to do 1,920 hours of community service with the Forest Service and write apology letters to people affected by the fire, along with five years of probation. He'll likely be spending the foreseeable future trying to pay off his million-dollar mistake, but even if he somehow manages to scrape together the entire $36.6 million, no amount of money can make up for the damage the fire caused to the forest and surrounding habitat.

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