Washington

Vancouver, Wash. teen is primary suspect in Eagle Creek wildfire

Timelapse video shows spread of wildfire in Columbia River Gorge

This dramatic timelapse video shows how a raging wildfire takes hold in the Columbia River Gorge, 52 miles east of Portland, Oregon. The video was shot between 5 p.m. Monday and 5 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4-5, 2017.
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This dramatic timelapse video shows how a raging wildfire takes hold in the Columbia River Gorge, 52 miles east of Portland, Oregon. The video was shot between 5 p.m. Monday and 5 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4-5, 2017.

Oregon State Police say they are confident they’ve identified the primary suspect in starting the Eagle Creek Fire – a 15-year-old Vancouver boy – and are conducting a thorough investigation into the cause of the blaze that’s been ravaging the Columbia River Gorge since Saturday.

Investigators suspect fireworks are to blame for igniting the Eagle Creek Fire, which has grown to more than 30,000 acres after merging with the Indian Creek Fire.

State police have not yet made any arrests or referred charges in connection with the investigation, and they have not released the boy’s name.

The boy, his family and friends have been cooperating with the ongoing investigation, OSP Capt. Bill Fugate said during a press conference Wednesday.

Witnesses reported seeing a teenager throw a firework into Eagle Creek Canyon on Saturday.

Fugate said OSP received many tips Tuesday night, including photos of the suspect and his “companions,” as well as other information.

“We are very confident that we have the correct people in this case that started the fire,” Fugate said. But he declined to comment on whether the teenagers admitted to setting off fireworks in the forest.

Witnesses reported seeing a teenager throw a firework into Eagle Creek Canyon on Saturday.

Portland’s Liz FitzGerald, 48, told The Oregonian/OregonLive on Tuesday that she was hiking to Punch Bowl Falls and was about 1 1 / 2miles up the Eagle Creek Trail, which begins near Cascade Locks, when she came across a group of teenagers. She saw one of the boys toss a “smoke bomb” into the canyon, she said.

FitzGerald said she believes she heard the teenager’s friends, including a boy who was video-recording with his cellphone, laugh as he dropped the firework off the cliff. She told the newspaper that she confronted the teens, but they disregarded her and kept walking. She said she reported what she saw to a U.S. Forest Service officer.

Videos posted on social media by other witnesses show state police later interviewing two boys near the Eagle Creek Trailhead.

Fugate told media that state police are aware of the video shot by the suspect’s friend. Some video evidence was seized, he said, and investigators are conducting an electronic analysis of those devices.

Plea for witnesses

But they are also asking people to forward any other videos of the incident to OSP.

Anyone who was visiting the Eagle Creek Trail or Punch Bowl Falls between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday and may have seen or heard fireworks or other suspicious activity should call OSP at 503-375-3555.

“An investigation like this, you know, there’s a lot of loose ends to tie up so anybody who hasn’t called in or contacted us please do so,” Fugate said.

Once the investigation is complete, state police will turn it over to the appropriate agency – whether that’s the Hood River or Multnomah district attorney’s offices – for review and to pursue charges.

It will be up to the district attorney to determine what charges to file, which will likely be brought through juvenile court, a division of the Circuit Court, Fugate said.

“Was this a negligent act? Was it a reckless act? Was it an intentional arson to start a forest fire? That’s part of the investigation. So depending on that, what we can establish will change the levels of charging that the district attorney can review,” he said.

It is not yet clear if the boy’s parents can or will be held liable. Fugate said that, too, is a decision for the district attorney once the investigation is complete.

The U.S. Forest Service, Hood River District Attorney’s Office, U.S. Attorney’s Office and Hood River Juvenile Department are assisting OSP in the investigation.

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