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Start A Wildfire? Expect A Bill


Whether it’s due to negligence or arson, thousands of wildfires each year are caused by humans. And the person or business who starts a fire can expect a bill.

Jeff Bonebrake is with the Oregon Department of Forestry. It's his job to investigate how a fire started. Once that’s pinned down, he figures out who pays and how much. He said the bulk of the charges are for firefighter salaries and equipment use.

"We demand those costs that we've expended for the actual suppression of that fire," Bonebrake said.

The tally can exceed $1 million, but Bonebrake said small fires can cost as little as a couple of hundred dollars. In most cases the person or company at fault pays at least part of the bill.

What happens when lightning sparks a blaze? Bonebrake said, "If it's an act of God, there's nobody to hold responsible."

The process is a bit different if the fire starts on federal lands. In that case the default fine is $5,000 but federal judges frequently increase the amount.

Northwest wildfire managers are keeping an eye on the weather with temperatures expected to peak in the triple digits in some areas over the next few days.