Vancouver teen charged with starting Columbia Gorge wildfire

This Monday Sept. 4, 2017, photo provided by KATU-TV shows the Eagle Creek wildfire as seen from Stevenson Wash., across the Columbia River, burning in the Columbia River Gorge above Cascade Locks, Ore. A lengthy stretch of highway Interstate 84 remains closed Tuesday, Sept. 5, as crews battle the wildfire that has also caused evacuations and sparked blazes across the Columbia River in Washington state. (Tristan Fortsch/KATU-TV via AP)

HOOD RIVER, Ore. - Charges have been filed against a 15-year-old Vancouver boy who allegedly used fireworks to start a wildfire in Oregon's scenic Columbia River Gorge that burned out of control, triggering evacuations, the closing of an interstate highway and causing ash to rain down on nearby Portland.

The Hood River County District Attorney said in a statement Thursday that the charges in juvenile court include reckless burning, depositing burning materials on forest lands, criminal mischief and recklessly endangering other persons.

The fire that started Sept. 2 burned 76 square miles, or 48,800 acres, of forestland, devastating beloved day trails around dozens of crystalline waterfalls.

The charges came after a criminal investigation by the Oregon State Police.

A statement said legal proceedings have commenced in the Hood River County Circuit Court where the youth was arraigned. His identity is being withheld by Oregon State Police.

Investigators said they suspect the teen was throwing fireworks off of the Eagle Creek Trail on Sept. 2 during an exceptionally long spell of hot, dry weather.

Fueled by wind through the Columbia River Gorge, the fire quickly spread and prompted thousands of evacuations in the surrounding communities. At one point, the fire jumped the Columbia and started a fire on the Washington state side of the Gorge.

As of this week, the fire is 50 percent contained.

Even though the fire did significant damage in both Hood River and Multnomah Counties, officials said the juvenile code requires he be tried in the county “where the illegal act originally occurred.”

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