A teenage boy is suspected of using fireworks that started a massive fire in Oregon, which ravaged 10,000 acres as of Tuesday, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate as flames tore through the region, police said.
Oregon State Police said they identified the 15-year-old boy, of Vancouver, Wash., and believe he and several others were playing with fireworks when the forest fire started along the popular Columbia River Gorge Trail. Witnesses told KGW they heard a group of teenagers near the trail throwing possible firecrackers into Eagle Creek Canyon.
"I just looked at that and thought, 'well, that's crazy,' but I didn't think it'll light the whole forest on fire," Liz Fitzgerald told KGW. "Massive amounts of smoke was billowing up, and I could smell that something was on fire. It was very clear I wasn't smelling a firecracker.”
Fitzgerald recalled running to authorities to alert them about the teens, then encountering the group again.
"I said, 'do you realize you just started a forest fire?' and the kid said, 'what are we supposed to do about it now?'" Fitzgerald said.
The fire doubled in size within three days, forcing residents in the area to be prepared to flee their homes at a moments notice. More than 700 homes were evacuated. Dozens of hikers were rescued by Sunday after the fire sealed off hiking trails in the area. A portion of the Eagle Creek trail had been closed for weeks because of another fire that erupted July 4.
"It's horribly smoky," Mountain Wave president Russ Gubele said. "Ash is coming down. It's like a Mount Saint Helens eruption all over again."
"You can't really stand outside without getting rained on" by ash, said Joanna Fisher, as she walked to work at a Troutdale Onaturopathic clinic with Calla Wanser, who was wearing a red bandanna around her mouth to keep the ash out of her lungs.
Extremely dry conditions and "hot, dry and gusty" winds have allowed the flames to run rampant throughout the region.
The Oregon wildfire is one of dozens ravaging western U.S. states. A wildfire in California threatened to destroy a 2,700-year-old grove of giant sequoia near Yosemite National Park. School districts canceled outdoor activities due to health concerns.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.