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Start A Wildfire? Expect A Bill

File photo of 2013's Little Queens Fire near the town of Atlanta, Idaho.

Whether it’s due to negligence or arson, thousands of wildfires each year are caused by humans. And the person or business who starts a fire can expect a bill.

Jeff Bonebrake is with the Oregon Department of Forestry. It's his job to investigate how a fire started. Once that’s pinned down, he figures out who pays and how much. He says the bulk of the charges are for firefighter salaries and equipment use.

"We demand those costs that we've expended for the actual suppression of that fire," Bonebrake said.

The tally can exceed $1 million, but Bonebrake says small fires can cost as little as a couple of hundred dollars. In most cases, the person or company at fault pays at least part of the bill.

What happens when lightning sparks a blaze?

"If it's an act of God, there's nobody to hold responsible,” Bonebrake said.

The process is a bit different if the fire starts on federal lands. In that case, the default fine is $5,000 but federal judges frequently increase the amount.

Northwest wildfire managers are keeping an eye on the weather with temperatures expected to peak in the triple digits in some areas over the next few days.

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.

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