Eagle Creek Fire witness: 'I saw this boy lob a smoke bomb down into the ravine'

Thick smoke billows from the Eagle Creek Fire burning in the Columbia River Gorge Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (Photo: Chopper 2/KATU)

The investigation into who started the Eagle Creek Fire may not have resulted in authorities identifying a suspect so quickly if it hadn’t been for one woman who says she saw what happened the day the fire started.

Liz FitzGerald says she saw how the fire started after seeing a group of teenagers on the Eagle Creek Trail Saturday.

“I saw this boy lob a smoke bomb down into the ravine,” she said via phone Tuesday night. “I saw his friend or a guy that was there with him videotaping it with his phone. I looked over, and I said, ‘Do you realize how dangerous that is?’”

FitzGerald kept hiking, thinking everything would be fine. She ran into a couple and told them what happened. They had a similar story.

Said FitzGerald: “They said, ‘Yeah, we saw some kids up at Punchbowl lighting firecrackers. We’re heading down to rat them out.’”

She turned back at that point and noticed more smoke. She raced to the trailhead, saw the same kids along the way, and screamed at them.

“’Do you realize you just started a forest fire?’” she said to them. “And the kid who had videotaped it said, ‘Well, what are we supposed to do about it now?’”

At the trailhead, FitzGerald found a Forest Service ranger and told him everything. Moments later, a van drove by and she just had a gut feeling.

“I said to him, ‘I think that’s them.’ And he said, ‘Are you comfortable getting in the car?’ And I said, yes, so we ran back to his car. I hopped in. He threw on the sirens. The kids blazed away.”

They eventually caught up with the teenagers and investigators interviewed them.

Police have identified a 15-year-old boy from Vancouver as the suspect in the fire. He hasn’t been publicly identified yet and no charges have been filed.

KATU's news partners at Willamette Week spoke with FitzGerald. Read her entire recollection here.

Police would like to hear from any other witnesses.

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