Teen who ignited massive fire may have to repay $37 million

HOOD RIVER, Ore. (AP) — A teenager who started a huge wildfire in the scenic Columbia River Gorge in Oregon could owe more in restitution that he will earn in a lifetime.

Eleven requests for restitution totaling almost $37 million have been submitted to a court. That covers the costs of firefighting, repair and restoration to the gorge and damage to homes.

At a hearing Thursday, the lawyer for the 15-year-old defendant urged Hood River County Judge John Olson to impose a “reasonable and rational” amount of restitution. The attorney, Jack Morris, said ordering a boy who is indigent to pay $37 million is “absurd.”

The judge said he has reviewed prior juvenile restitution cases in Oregon, and the largest figure he could find was for $114,000. He said he needed more time to review the case, and would issue a written ruling, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported .

“It is an extraordinary amount of restitution being sought,” Olson said.

The teen from Vancouver, Washington, did not attend the hearing. He pleaded guilty in February to reckless burning of public and private property and other charges. Olson sentenced him to community service and probation, and the boy had to write more than 150 letters of apology to those affected by the fire that burned 75 square miles (194 square kilometers).