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Illegal fireworks found on fire scene

George Slash Fire burns 50 acres along Eagle Creek on July 2
by: Clinton Vining, An Oregon Department of Forestry Air Tanker drops firefighting retardant on a slash fire about five miles east of Estacada in the George community.

Neighbors heard illegal fireworks shortly before flames took over a hillside above Eagle Creek east of Estacada early on the morning of Sunday, July 2.

Members of the Randall family, who live on the south side of Eagle Creek on Porter Road, reported hearing fireworks late Saturday night into early Sunday morning.

The fire call came in at 1:26 a.m., according to Estacada Rural Fire Chief Alan Hull. By 1:52 a.m., before firefighters even reached the scene, a second alarm had been sounded.

The fire was mostly contained at about 10 acres by 4 a.m., which is when the Oregon Department of Forestry took over the fire command. But early Sunday afternoon, strong winds caused the fire to jump the line and quickly double, triple and quadruple in size.

By late Sunday afternoon, the wildfire had burned 50 acres along the steep canyon wall on the north side of Eagle Creek, just west of the Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery.

The fire was 100 percent contained by Monday morning. Fire crews spent until Thursday mopping up hot spots.

'Illegal fireworks were present on the scene,' said Jeri Chase, ODF public affairs representative. 'The actual cause of the fire is the subject of ongoing investigation, underway by the Oregon Department of Forestry in cooperation with the Oregon State Police.'

Over four days, approximately 100 firefighters in all fought the George Slash Fire by hand, by helicopter and by airplane. The ODF Air Tanker dropped retardant three times from one load on Sunday afternoon.

If a suspect is determined to have willfully, maliciously or negligently started the blaze, he or she could face criminal and civil penalties that could include 100 percent of the suppression costs, according to Chase. The cost of one retardant load is approximately $5,000. ODF did not have an estimate at press time of the entire cost to fight the fire.

The landowner, Longview Fiber, may also seek restitution of actual damages. The area that burned had mostly been clear-cut. Scrap piles remained and burned quickly. The slash unit had been replanted and contained tree seedlings about one foot tall.

'You don't see fires that burn with that intensity in June or July,' said Hull. 'You usually see that in August, so we could have an interesting … fire season.'