The 2017 Gorge Fire

It’s time to head back to the Columbia River Gorge.

For the first time since the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, seven of Oregon’s most popular trails reopened on Friday.

The full length of the Historic Columbia River Highway is now open as well.

“This reopening includes a lot of the really good stuff,” Forest Service spokeswoman Rachel Pawlitz said. “This is a big day.”

The Eagle Creek Fire roared to life in September of 2017 when a teenager tossed a firecracker into the woods of Eagle Creek Trail.

The blaze spread quickly, briefly trapping 40 hikers — including nine Salem teenagers — before roaring across 50,000 acres in a calamity that shut down Interstate 84, torpedoed the local economy and cost $40 million.

But volunteers returned to help repair trails as soon as the flames subsided, and trails impacted by the blaze have been gradually reopening.

The list of trails that opened Friday includes:   

• Angel’s Rest #415
• Devils Rest #420C
• Return Trail #442
• Wahkeena Trail #420
• Vista Point Trail #419
• Larch Mountain Trail #441
• Horsetail Falls Trail #438 to Ponytail Falls

Sentencing

HOOD RIVER, Ore. (AP) — A teenager charged in juvenile court with starting an explosive wildfire in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge last fall by tossing a lit firecracker into the woods pleaded guilty Friday in a deal that spares him time in custody.

The boy, who was 15 at the time, has not been identified by authorities because of fear for his safety after an angry backlash from those who consider the scenic gorge a cherished playground on Portland’s doorstep. He appeared in Hood River County Court with his parents, who followed the hearing with the help of an interpreter.

The teen’s family emigrated to the U.S. in 2000 from Ukraine and lives in Vancouver, Washington.

He pleaded guilty to eight counts of reckless burning of public and private property, two counts of depositing burning materials on forest land, and one count each of second-degree criminal mischief and reckless endangerment of others — all misdemeanors.

The teen apologized in a statement he read in court and asked for forgiveness after listening to an hour of impact statements.

Environmental groups said after the hearing that it was time to focus on rebuilding the gorge. “The fire is out and the court has spoken,” Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge, said in a statement.

The boy’s attorney said his client has learned from the experience and is ready to move forward, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported .

“In my perspective, the law was applied here as it should,” said attorney Jack Morris. “I want you to know that the state has not done him any favors.”

At the hearing, Hood River County District Attorney John Sewell said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to press felony charges, which would have required investigators to prove the teenager intended to start the fire.

There also wasn’t evidence to prosecute the group of teenagers accompanying the teen, OPB reported. Sewell said the boy, his parents and the group of teenagers voluntarily submitted their interviews to investigators.

The Teen Issued A Written Apology That Reads:

“I want to express how sorry I am for what I did. I know a lot of people suffered because of a bad decision that I made. I’m sorry to the first responders who risked their lives to put out the fires, I am sorry to the hikers that were trapped, I am sorry to the people who worried about their safety and their homes that day, and for weeks afterwards. I am truly sorry about the loss of nature that occurred because of my careless action.

Every day I think about this terrible decision and its awful consequences. Every time I hear people talk about the fire, I put myself down. I know I will have to live with my bad decision for the rest of my life, but I have learned from this experience and will work hard to help rebuild the community in any way that I can. I now realize how important it is to think before acting because my actions can have serious consequences. I, myself, love spending time in nature and I now realize how much work it takes to maintain the National Forest so people can enjoy it.

I sincerely apologize to everyone who had to deal with this fire, I cannot imagine how scary it must have been for you. I know I have to earn your forgiveness and I will work hard to do so and one day, I hope I will. Thank you for giving me a chance to speak. This has been a big learning experience for me and I take it very seriously. I apologize with all my heart to everyone in the Gorge.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report 

Gorge Trail Map

Rizklaw is Here for YOU!

“I have experience seeing this from both sides of the coin. There is a reason I am on this side now!

From 1990 to 1996 I worked at Nationwide Insurance and Wausau Insurance in house counsel. In that role I defended workers’ compensation claims, slip and falls and car accident injury claims. From 1996 to 2000 I supervised and negotiated resolution of environmental claims and litigated cases nationally from Nationwide’s satellite home office in suburban Chicago.

Since then, I have switched to the side of righteousness and justice representing and litigating and resolving personal injury and insurance companies in Oregon and Washington state. Along the way, I have learned many valuable lessons and insights.” 

Attorney Richard Rizk

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