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Gorge fire started by ignorance?

With half of Oregon seemingly on fire, it is no surprise that Keizer—miles from the nearest wildfire—suffers from smoke hanging over us.

The irritation of unhealthy air is minor compared to those who livelihoods and homes have been destroyed or damaged by fire. There is no fire threatening Keizer yet we are all horrified by the speed and size of fires. Many wildfires are started by lightening, something people understand. It is the wildfires that are started by humans that is hard to grasp and elicits feelings of anger, revenge and even vigilantism.

A 15-year-old is suspected of lighting and throwing a firecracker into a ravine in the Eagle Creek area. From that one immature act more than 10,000 acres have burned in the Columbia Gorge, threatening some of Oregon’s most cherished historical and hiking sites.

Some want the young suspect to sit in jail, others want the parents to pay restitution for their kid’s crime. These feelings are understandable when one sees Oregon’s natural playland go up in flames, but we all must take a step back for a moment and consider what has happened.

First, in America, a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Did the teen confess when questioned by law enforcement officers? Was there more than one eyewitness to the firecracker throwing incident? Prosecutors may decide not to file charges against a minor in a case of what could be determined to be youthful ignorance.

Is it ignorance? Is it possible that the teen who allegedly threw a lit firecracker into a tinder dry ravine did not understand the consequences? How old does a person have to be before they understand that any kind of uncontrolled fire and a forest do not mix? Is this one of those incidents that happen because our youth don’t get the kind of real-world learning that people received in the past?

Who teaches our kids that in the summer our forests are dry and flammable? Who teaches our kids not to play with fire in the forest? These lessons should be taught along with other lessons that those of a certain age know by heart: walk against the traffic, for example; or, tie something red on an item protruding from the back of your vehicle.

Grown ups know what they know but they may not necessarily know what kids know. Young people are battered with information all day long but one cannot be sure that some of that information is life lessons. Each day offers countless teaching moments for our youth; adults can tell kids or they can set an example with their own actions. That is a definition of being a parent, teaching our kids how to live, treat other people and their surroundings with respect.

If it is proven that the teenager did, in fact, start the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge by throwing a lit firecracker into a dry ravine,  he should be held accountable. A sentence in a juvenile  correctional facility isn’t the answer. Excusing the whole thing due to the age and history of the suspect doesn’t cut it either. If convicted, the suspected teen—and any teen convicted of a crime—should be sentenced to community service work, as an editorial in The Oregonian suggested this week, in which he would be working to repair the damage his carelessness wrought.