Oregon state police say a teen playing with fireworks started a forest fire that merged with another fire.
The teen, a 15-year-old from Vancouver, Washington, reportedly started the wildfire while playing with fireworks near the Eagle Creek Trail, according to CNN. No arrests have been made in the case, and the teen has reportedly not yet been formally charged.
"It is believed he and others may have been using fireworks, which started the forest fire along the Eagle Creek Trail," said state police in a post on Facebook. "The suspect was contacted by law enforcement in the parking lot of the trailhead and cooperated with the investigation."
The police urged anyone with information about fireworks going off in the area to contact them.
Hundreds of residents have had to evacuate because of the fires, which have burned 20,000 acres. The Eagle Creek fire merged with the Indian Creek fire nearby on Sept. 5.
The fire is burning east of Portland, at the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury has issued a declaration of emergency for a number of areas in Multnomah County, saying, "Our hearts are breaking, the Gorge is Oregon's crown jewel."
"This gives us an opportunity to get the resources we need to do what we can to protect resources and property," Kafoury said of the declaration of emergency, according to Multnomah County's website.
Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has said the fire has not been contained, saying, "We're working very hard to ... make sure our Oregonians and firefighters are safe and to preserve our homes and our critical infrastructure."
Witness Liz Fitzgerald recalled her encounter with a group of teenagers around the time the fire had started at Eagle Creek Trail. While she was walking on the trail, she said she saw a group of teens, one of whom "threw a smoke bomb" as another recorded a video, according to Fitzgerald.
"He lobbed it casually into the canyon," recalled Fitzgerald, who said she warned the teens about how dry the trail was and the Indian Creek fire nearby, asking them, "'Do you realize how dangerous that is?'"
As Fitzgerald saw smoke rising from where the teen had allegedly thrown the smoke bomb, one girl in the group said, "Oh s**t."
Fitzgerald walked away from the group but later saw a couple who said they had seen a group of teens with firecrackers on the trail and were going to alert authorities. Fitzgerald began running to report what she had seen, and passed by the spot where she had previously encountered the teenagers.
"I saw a massive cloud of smoke," recalled Fitzgerald. "I could smell fire. I couldn't see the flames. It's steep -- but I knew the forest was on fire."
"'Do you realize you just lit a forest fire?'" Fitzgerald said she asked the group of teens when she saw them "casually walking down the hill."
"What are we supposed to do about it now?" Fitzgerald said one of the teens asked her, to which she said she replied, "'Call the freaking fire department.'"
When she finally reported what she saw to a forestry law enforcement officer in the trail's parking lot, she said she saw a vehicle pull away with a girl sitting in it.
"The look on her face said, 'This is so exciting, we're getting away,'" recalled Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald got into the officer's car, and the pair chased the teens' vehicle. After the forestry officer pulled over the minivan, a state police trooper questioned the group, one of them, Fitzgerald said, was the teen who threw the smoke bomb.
"I didn't run down to alert the authorities in order to 'make the kids pay,'" said Fitzgerald of the incident. "I wanted them to know about the fire, and I wanted the kids to be accountable."
"But I believe that everyone makes mistakes and everyone should be allowed a second chance," she added.