Teens’ Martis Fire fine too lenient | TheUnion.com

Teens’ Martis Fire fine too lenient

The Martis Fire – so big that its smoke rose like a nuclear explosion east of Truckee last summer – cost the public $18 million to bring under control.

The teens who pleaded no-contest in a Nevada County court to setting without a permit the campfire that was the cause of the fire last week were sentenced to pay all of $888 in restitution.

Something clearly is out of whack here.

The teens didn’t admit their guilt; they’ll be placed on probation and need to complete 150 hours each of community service, and their lawyers say firefighters contributed to the size of the Martis Fire by failing to douse it properly the first time they were called.

But still …

At least two of the big fires which swept our part of the Sierra last summer, the Martis Fire and the Gap Fire, were started by unpermitted campfires that got out of control. And it’s not as if it was a secret that campfires and open burning were banned in the tinder-dry forest last summer. Forest Service and local fire officials repeatedly took to the airwaves and local newspapers to warn of the danger. Signs throughout the forest delivered the same message. Anyone who started a campfire clearly was acting from reckless disregard of the law.

The fires they started weren’t just expensive. They were potentially life-threatening – it’s always a reason for thanksgiving when large forest fires don’t claim the lives of firefighters. They destroyed large swaths of the natural beauty of the Sierra.

An $888 fine, we fear, won’t make much of an impression on others who are tempted to blow off warnings about the danger of forest fires.

If this is the sternest message we can deliver under the law, the law needs another look.

In the meantime, state or federal officials shouldn’t be shy about seeking civil damages from those whose misdeeds can be clearly linked to forest fires. It wouldn’t take long, we bet, for a million-dollar lawsuit against the parents of some teens to send a message about personal responsibility that would be hard to ignore.

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