Woman to be sentenced for arson wildfire

On Warm Springs Reservation


A Warm Springs woman who pleaded guilty to starting a wildfire on the Warm Springs Reservation last year that cost nearly $8 million will be sentenced in September.

Sadie Renee Johnson, 23, of Warm Springs, entered the guilty plea May 19, in the U.S. District Court in Portland, before Judge Marco A. Hernandez, to arson involving brush and timber on the reservation.

Johnson admitted that on July 20, 2013, at about 9:15 a.m., she was a passenger in a car traveling on Highway 3 near Sunnyside Drive, between Warm Springs and Kah-Nee-Ta, when she used a lighter to light a small firework, which she threw out the passenger window.

The lit firework landed in the brush alongside Highway 3, south of the Mutton Mountains and west of the Deschutes River, and started the brush on fire, quickly spreading to the north and west.

Firefighters were dispatched around 9:29 a.m., and identified the point of origin at milepost 5 on the north side of the road within a one- to 1.5-acre area. Within minutes the fire spread and increased in size, endangering three neighborhoods and Kah-Nee-Ta Resort.

After starting near the Sunnyside subdivision, the fire burned toward the Wolfe Point and Charley Canyon subdivisions and Kah-Nee-Ta, causing the evacuation of hundreds of area residents.

The fire spread to the Deschutes River, resulting in the closure of the Lower Deschutes, and to the Mutton Mountains, eventually burning about 51,480 acres of brush and timber on the reservation before it was contained on July 29, 2013, and under control by Aug. 13, 2013.

The fire was finally declared out on Sept. 13, 2013.

The estimated cost to fight and contain the fire for the Bureau of Indian Affairs was $7,901,973, for which Johnson is required to pay full restitution.

When detectives questioned her, Johnson admitted that she lit a tiny firework with a cigarette lighter and threw it out the window of the vehicle. She told detectives that her firefighter friends were bored and needed work, but she didn’t mean for it to be 30,000 acres.

She said that she thought it would be put out in two days.

On July 22, 2013 on Facebook, she posted the question, “Like my fire?”

Johnson remains in federal custody, awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled for Sept. 3. The crime is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of supervised probation.

The BIA Special Wildland Arson Investigation Team and the Warm Springs Police Department investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Pamala Holsinger is handling the prosecution.




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