Misdemeanor charges have been filed against the 15-year-old boy accused of igniting the Eagle Creek Fire that has torched more than 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge. Legal experts say a judge will likely order the teen and his parents to pay some amount of restitution. But if history’s any guide, it will be far lower than the full cost of the fire.
So who’s footing the bill — and how big is it?
As of Oct. 12, the Eagle Creek Fire had cost the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry more than $19 million. The fire, meanwhile, is still burning.
The estimated cost so far doesn’t include $500,000 the Oregon Department of Transportation has spent on tree removal and rock scaling, among other things. It also doesn’t include $5.6 million the Oregon State Fire Marshal has spent on firefighting efforts.
Comparatively speaking, the cost of the Eagle Creek Fire isn’t extraordinary. For example, another Pacific Northwest wildfire, the Miller Complex fire burning in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, has cost $37.4 million to date.
The U.S. Forest Service has largely been in charge of Eagle Creek Fire response. Under a cost-sharing agreement with the state forestry department, the forest service will cover costs until the fire is out. The state will be billed later.
What was the money spent on?
The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office spent most of its money on personnel and response vehicles. About 90 percent of the $5.6 million it has so far spent went to paying for those resources. The rest went to camp costs, gas and repairs.
Security, showers, meals and facilities for firefighters cost $160 a day, said Mariana Ruiz-Temple, the chief deputy state fire marshal. At the fire’s peak, 300 people from two states were working the blaze.
The Oregon Department of Transportation expects the $500,000 it has spent so far to increase as crews continue to assess the repairs needed along the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Another cost yet to be measured: the physical damage to the Gorge and its impact for years to come.