HOOD RIVER, Ore. -- The 15-year-old boy suspected of starting the massive Eagle Creek wildfire in the Columbia Gorge pleaded guilty in court Friday morning.
He was sentenced to five years of probation and 1,920 hours of community service.
"I sincerely apologize to everyone who had to deal with this fire, I cannot imagine how scary it must have been for you," he wrote in a letter. "I know I have to earn your forgiveness and I will work hard to do so and one day, I hope I will."
Oregon State Police investigators said the boy started the fire on Sept. 2, 2017, while igniting fireworks.
He pleaded guilty to reckless burning, depositing burning materials on forest lands, unlawful possession of fireworks, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment of other persons.
The prosecutor said the boy and his family have cooperated with investigators.
The wildfire burned more than 48,000 acres in the scenic Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood National Forest. A representative with the U.S. Forest Service said 121 miles of national forest trails were impacted. A group of hikers had to be rescued after the fire started and several structures burned.
According to a representative with the Oregon Department of Transportation, crews removed more than 12,000 trees to make the area safe. ODOT estimates a projected $12 million in total costs.
The wildfire affected Hood River and Multnomah counties, but Oregon's juvenile code demands that legal proceedings take place in the county where the illegal act originally occurred.
Friends of the Columbia Gorge conservation director Michael Lang issued the following statement Friday after the sentencing:
"The fire is out and the court has spoken. Now is the time to focus on the healing process. The Eagle Creek fire was tragedy all around – creating significant hardship for Gorge communities and businesses, placing firefighters and first responders in harm's way, and scorching thousands of acres of pristine forest. There's a long road ahead but the Gorge is a resilient place.
"This spring will be a key time in the healing and rebuilding process for the Gorge. And a lot of help will be needed from mobilizing volunteers to help stop invasive species from spreading in the burned areas to identifying funding to help the U.S. Forest Service and its partners in assessing and rebuilding trails damaged by the fire."