WASHINGTON, Aug. 21 (UPI) — Two men determined by state officials in Oregon to be at fault for a forest fire that burned more than 26,000 acres are responsible for reimbursing the $37 million it cost to put the blaze out.
The Oregon State Department of Forestry plans to bill Dominic Decarlo and Cloyd Deardorff the full cost of putting out the month-long Stouts Creek fire in 2015 after determining the illegal use of their lawnmowers caused it.
Both men were cited for using lawnmowers — illegal at that time of year between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. — which started the fire.
“We’re trying to make people aware that they have some responsibility — so people know there are consequences when you start [a wildfire],” Jeff Bonebrake, fire investigation and cost recovery coordinator for the State Department of Forestry, told The Oregonian. “If we can prevent one, that saves everyone a lot grief.”
The wildfire started July 30, 2015, forcing home evacuations and burning 26,452 acres of timber and wildlife habitat on private and national forest land over the course of a month.
Oregon holds people financially responsible for the costs of extinguishing fires, with the $37 million bill expected to cover the costs of firefighting crews, helicopters and bulldozers used to suppress the fire.
“It’s critical that everyone living, working, or recreating in wildland areas know and follow the Public Use Fire Restrictions that are in place throughout the summer,” Melvin Thornton, district manager for the Douglas Forest Protective Association, told KPIC-TV. “Individuals that are found to be in violation of the regulations will be cited and if a fire results from their actions, they may be held liable for all fire suppression costs.”
During the summer, fire prevention regulations restrict the mowing of dry grass, non-industrial use of chainsaws, the cutting, grinding and welding of metal, off-road driving, campfires, debris burning, fireworks and smoking.
The bill is expected to be finalized and mailed to Decarlo and Deardorff in the next several weeks after the exact final numbers are calculated. The bill will include a full invoice summarizing the costs, though Bonebrake said it can be appealed.
“Initially we treat it as if we are going to [receive the full amount],” Bonebrake said. “But you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.”