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Owes $7.9 million in restitution

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Sadie Renee JohnsonA Warm Springs woman who admitted starting the Sunnyside Turnoff wildfire on the Warm Springs Reservation last year will serve 1 1/2 years in federal prison.

Judge Marco A. Hernandez sentenced Sadie Renee Johnson, 23, who is a tribal member, on Sept. 3, in the U.S. District Court in Portland, after Johnson pleaded guilty to arson involving brush and timber on May 19.

In the sentencing report, Assistant U.S. Attorney Pam Holsinger, who prosecuted the case, said 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 continued to 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.

Johnson told detectives that her firefighter friends were bored and needed work, but she didn’t mean for the fire 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?”

By the time 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. Johnson is required to pay restitution with monthly installments of $50.

"She read a fairly lengthy letter of apology in court and made a statement to the court," said Holsinger. "She apologized to the tribes, her family and to the court."

During the sentencing, "She acknowledged that she had addiction issues," said Holsinger.

As part of the sentencing, Hernandez ordered that Johnson serve 18 months in federal prison, six months in a drug and alcohol treatment program, and 200 hours of community service on the reservation.

The BIA Special Wildland Arson Investigation Team and the Warm Springs Police Department investigated the case.

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