NE Portland woman recounts moments Eagle Creek Fire sparked - KPTV - FOX 12

NE Portland woman recounts moments Eagle Creek Fire sparked

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A northeast Portland woman is sharing her story after she says she watched as the Eagle Creek Fire was sparked Saturday afternoon.

Liz Fitzgerald was hiking to Punch Bowl Falls when she came across a group of teens, one of which was shooting video of another. 

"I saw him just kind of lob a smoke bomb," Fitzgerald said. 

Fitzgerald says she watched as it smoked all the way down the steep hillside. She says as she moved closer to the group she confronted them.

"Do you realize how dangerous that is, there is a fire raging at Mile 3," Fitzgerald said to the group.

Looking down from the trail Fitzgerald saw smoke but thought it was just from the smoke bomb she saw be tossed into the trees and brush below. She decided to continue on her hike to Punch Bowl Falls.

As she walked she grew concerned and thought to herself that it would be irresponsible of her to get stuck by a forest fire. At that point, she took off running down the rocky trail to the trailhead.

"I looked over the edge and I now saw what was probably smoke that was maybe 30 feet wide," Fitzgerald said. "It was just billowing up and I could distinctly smell fire."

Fitzgerald says grew nervous as she raced down.

"I was booking down the hill as fast as I could," Fitzgerald said. "I was very nervous, it is a very steep, sketchy trail, with huge drop offs and it is rocky and I had so much adrenaline."

Along the way down she stopped to warn other hikers on the trail. She says some of them heeded her warning, others did not.

Fitzgerald says she eventually came across a small group of teens who she had seen earlier when the fire was sparked.

"I said over my shoulder, 'do you realize you just started a forest fire?'" Fitzgerald said. "The kid who video taped it said, 'what are we suppose to do about it now?' and I yelled over my shoulder, 'call the freakin' fire department.'"

When Fitzgerald got to the trailhead she looked around for members of the Forest Service or law enforcement. She continued on and eventually came across a U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement truck stopped in a different lot.

She told the officers inside the truck her story and what she had just watch unfold.

"He immediately without hesitation called in that there was a fire," Fitzgerald said.

As she continued to tell him her story, she asked the officers if they could go closer to the trailhead to have a better vantage point in case the teens came down. As they were walking that way she spotted a van with people inside she recognized from the group of teens on the trail.

Law enforcement would eventually stop the van before it got on I-84. That's when Fitzgerald was told they group had confessed to what had happened.

"I didn't get the sense that it was malicious intent, I didn't get the sense that they threw it like, 'ha ha and snickered,' like 'we are going to light this forest on fire,'" Fitzgerald said. "I got the sense that they had just no clue that what they were doing was dangerous."

Fitzgerald says she decided to share her story of why she did what she did to give context to what it was like on that trail on Saturday.

"I think it has given some people comfort that somebody saw something and did the right thing," Fitzgerald said. "I didn't run down the hill to like nail these kids, to like, to ruin their lives, to have them pay, to have their families pay for the rest of their lives. I did it to let the Forest Service know that the forest was on fire, and I did it so those kids could be accountable and so they just couldn't walk away from it."

Fitzgerald adds those involved should be held accountable but also believes in second chances, even when someone does something heinous, hurtful or awful.

"They are kids and that they clearly had no idea what they were doing," Fitzgerald said.

Oregon State Police say they are still investigating the case and say no charges have been filed. They say that will be up to the county district attorney's once the investigation is complete. They do say a 15-year old boy from Vancouver is suspected in starting the fire. 

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