Fire Alert

Warm Springs woman admits sparking 51,000-acre wildfire

Says she tossed firework because bored firefighter friends needed work

Hefty bill for Warm Springs fire

WARM SPRINGS, Ore. - A Warm Springs woman who admitted tossing a lit firework out of a car last summer to create some work for her bored firefighter friends -- igniting a wildfire that eventually blackened over 51,000 acres and forced evacuations -- is due for sentencing Sept. 3, prosecutors said Friday.

Sadie Renee Johnson, 23, pleaded guilty last May 19th before U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez in Portland to the crime of setting brush and timber on fire on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it released details about the case Friday to underscore the danger of such reckless actions as this year's wildfire season is still at its peak.

They said Johnson admitted that on July 20th of last year, at about  9:15 a.m., she was riding as passenger in a car on Route 3 near Sunnyside Drive when she used a lighter to light a small firework, then tossed it out the passenger window into the brush along the side of the road.

The firework started the brush beside the road on fire, which quickly spread northwest. The fire was called in to dispatch about 15 minutes later.

The first responders identified the point of origin at milepost 5 on the north side of the road, within a 1- to 1.5-acre area.

Within minutes, the fire -- later named the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire -- grew quickly, ultimately burning about 51,480 acres of brush on the reservation, officials said.

The fire, less than five miles north of Warm Springs, destroyed no structures but forced evacuations of dozens of homes and closed the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and Village and tribal Highway 3 for days.

The fire was contained by July 29th of last year and was under control by August 13th, but was not declared out until September 13th.

Prosecutors said the approximate cost to fight and contain the wildfire for the Bureau of Indian Affairs was $7,901,973 -- and Johnson is required to pay full restitution.

When questioned by detectives, Johnson "said her firefighter friends were bored and needed work but she didn't mean for it to be 30,000 acres," the Department of Justice said. She told authorities she thought it would be a two-day fire and be put out.

But two days after the fire began, they said, Johnson posted an entry on Facebook stating: "like my fire?"

Johnson is being held at the Columbia County Jail, awaiting sentencing scheduled for September 3rd. Prosecutors said Johnson faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel told NewsChannel 21 on Friday that the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Indian Affairs gave the case "top priority."

It was investigated by BIA Special Wildland Arson Investigation Team and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Pamala Holsinger is handling prosecution of the case.

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