PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Vancouver 15-year-old is suspected of using a firework that caused the Eagle Creek Fire, torching more than 32,000 acres and sparking the Archer Fire on the other side of the Columbia River.
Liz Fitzgerald was out for a hike Saturday afternoon, hoping to cool off in the refreshing water at Punch Bowl Falls when she came upon a group of teens on the trail.
She told KOIN she saw one boy recording video on his phone as another boy threw a smoke bomb off the side of the canyon.
“I leaned over and said ‘do you realize how dangerous that is? There’s a raging forest fire 3 miles up and this whole place is super dry,’” she said.
She continued to walk up toward Punch Bowl Falls for a short time before fully realizing the potential danger.
“I would feel really dumb if I got stuck up here in a forest fire because I SAW them do that and what if it does turn into a fire?” she said.
After encountering a couple who said they saw kids lighting firecrackers at Punch Bowl Falls, Fitzgerald ran back down to where she saw the teenagers and saw that the firework had sparked flames below.
Warning other hikers along the way, Fitzgerald ran back to the trail head, where she saw the teenagers again.
“I said ‘Do you realize you just started a forest fire?’ And the kid who had video taped it said, ‘well what are we supposed to do about it now?’” Fitzgerald relayed to KOIN.
She continued to the trail head and through the parking lot until she found a forest service patrol car and reported the fire.
Fitzgerald said the teenagers got into a minivan and tried to leave, but the forest service ranger followed to the I-84 on ramp, where they stopped. She identified the group as the same kids she saw with the smoke bomb.
She relayed her story again to the Oregon State Police, who now said a 15-year-old Vancouver boy is the suspect in starting the fire. While she did identify the boy she saw throw the smoke bomb, she feels all the kids are part of what happened.
“They were all there, they were all a part of it,” she said. “He wasn’t just by himself, they were completely complicit and completely indifferent to the reality of what was happening.”
The Oregon State Police have not identified the suspect or filed any charges but they are continuing to investigation the cause of the fire.
Since Saturday afternoon, the Eagle Creek Fire has burned more than 10,000 acres, trapped 150 hikers in the mountains overnight and caused thousands to evacuate from their homes.
“I felt like I was in a nightmare when it happened. I felt like the response from the kids was so void of any conscience, I found it so disturbing,” she said. “When I came home and saw the news … the nightmare is still happening. I can’t believe this is happening.”
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