Washington Forest Service to Bill Teen for Fire Suppression Costs

WENATCHEE, Wash. (AP) -- The U.S. Forest Service plans to bill an 18-year-old Peshastin man about $10 million of the cost of suppressing a 16,439-acre wildfire.

The Fischer fire destroyed one home as it burned near the towns of Cashmere and Peshastin in central Washington. Witnesses said they saw three motorized dirt bikes heading up a hill in Fischer Canyon on Aug. 8, shortly before the fire started.

Last month, the Chelan County prosecutor's office cited one of the three riders, Ryan Unger, for operating an off-road vehicle without a spark arrester, as required by law, and negligent starting of a fire.

Both misdemeanors, each calls for a $500 fine, Sheriff Mike Harum said.

Repeated calls to the prosecutor's office were not returned Monday.

Agency policy requires the Forest Service to try to recover fire suppression costs. The $10 million amounts to roughly two-thirds of the $14.9 million required to extinguish the blaze, said Maureen Hanson, administrative officer for the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forest.

The state Department of Natural Resources paid about one-third of the suppression costs. An agency spokesman in Ellensburg said the state had not yet decided whether to attempt to recover its share of the costs.

``It's not something we take pleasure in,'' Hanson said. ``We understand a lot of these people don't go out to start a fire. It's not malicious and it's not intentional.''

When called Monday, Unger's father said the family would not comment. Steve DeFolo, the financial manager for the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests, said the Forest Service usually works with an individual's insurance company to negotiate a settlement.

``We do provide a copy of a form to fill out their financial statement, to show if they're financially capable of paying the bill. If the individual doesn't have any assets, we're not going to be able to collect on that,'' he said.

After receiving a bill, a person has 30 days to respond, which includes options to appeal or negotiate, he said.

Last week, the Forest Service announced it would bill a Friday Harbor man about $80,000 for starting the Rex II Fire, which burned 16 acres on the north shore of Lake Chelan in late September.