Ore. Woman Set Forest Fire to Help 'Bored Firefighter Friends'

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 25, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An Oregon woman has confessed to setting a 51,000-acre wildfire to help out her "bored firefighter friends," and now she's due to be sentenced.

Sadie Renee Johnson, 23, was convicted in federal court in May after pleading guilty to setting the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire, which forced evacuations of dozens of homes and closed the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and Village, reports Central Oregon's KTVZ. In Johnson's defense, she said she thought she was only setting "a two-day fire."

So what legal consequences are facing this strangely motivated arsonist?

Millions in Restitution

The Sunnyside Turnoff Fire took at least nine days to contain, but it was not declared officially extinguished for almost two months. According to KTVZ, the Bureau of Indian Affairs spent $7.9 million fighting the fire, and prosecutors want Johnson to foot the bill.

It's fairly common in criminal cases for a court to sentence a convict to pay restitution for her crime. However, restitution is seldom ordered in the millions, and Johnson probably doesn't have close to $8 million just lying around. Still, this kind of restitution isn't unprecedented; the Associated Press reports that two Arizona cousins were sentenced to pay $3.7 million for accidentally starting the largest wildfire in that state's history.

Although debtor's prisons were officially outlawed more than a century ago, Johnson may be thrown behind bars if she willfully refuses to pay her court-ordered restitution -- which she'll likely be paying for the rest of her life.

Come on Baby, 'Like' My Fire

In addition to the millions in potential restitution, Johnson could face up to five years in federal prison. Prosecutors told KTVZ that the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have given the case "top priority." The federal statute for arson within U.S. territorial jurisdiction sets the maximum sentence for arson at 25 years, so Johnson may be getting off easy.

She may not get the sympathy of the sentencing judge, however, since two days after she started the blaze, Johnson posted on Facebook: "Like my fire?" Hopefully Johnson has a bit less cavalier attitude when she's sentenced on September 3.

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