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Humans blamed in three fires

A 16-year-old male could face criminal charges for starting a fire in the Heights.

Hood River District Attorney John Sewell will soon decide whether to pursue criminal charges against the boy, who has admitted he started a major fire in the Heights on Sept. 27.

On Thursday, Oregon State Police Arson Detective Ray Downey was finalizing the report that will be forwarded to Sewell next week. Sewell said the youth has admitted to starting a fire between a storage shed and a duplex while he was playing with a barbecue lighter and an aerosole can.

Hood River Fire Chief Don Petito said the juvenile panicked and ran away from the scene after igniting the blaze that destroyed a duplex on Sieverkropp Road and damaged a neighboring house on Kropp Court. Downey said the boy’s parents could be held liable for part of the estimated $375,000 in damages that led to the displacement of two families.

“It is a parent’s obligation to teach their child to not play with lighters or matches because of the potential fire danger,” Petito said.

He said the local fire department attempts to get that safety message across to children every year by visiting area schools. The emergency responders also have a special program in place to educate youth who have demonstrated an affinity for playing with fire but are not knowledgeable about the potential perils.

Hood River Valley firefighters swarmed to the Heights on Sept. 27 to find the shed and duplex already engulfed in flames. Their problems were compounded when an attic fire was sparked in the house next door, which sustained damage after being inundated with smoke and water.

The cause of another blaze, on Riordian Hill Drive the day after the Heights fire, has also been blamed on human activity. The flames that destroyed an abandoned house are believed to have been started by a candle. West Side Fire Marshal Jim Trammell made that determination because the unlocked residence had no electrical service and had been known to be a gathering place for juveniles. The house was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived and embers had ignited in the nearby underbrush, eventually consuming about one-fourth of an acre of dry grass and vegetation. Petito said a candle left burning on a plastic table in a bedroom is also believed to have started a fire at the American Village Apartments in early September. The Avalon Way blaze began in unit number 35 and crept through the attic and vent system into neighboring units 33 and 34.

After the building was evacuated, the Hood River crew battled for almost five hours to keep the flames from spreading to any of the other 48 units that were housed in 10 separate buildings. Twelve adults and four children were displaced by the fire and forced to seek temporary shelter.

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