In a new documentary about the 2017 Columbia River Gorge fire, the eyewitness who watched teenagers start it says she feels responsibility for the social media backlash against the 15-year-old fire-starter.
"The way that it was written about," Liz Fitzgerald says, "was like, well wait. You are painting a picture like these kids were malicious. They were just clueless."
While she says doesn't regret her response to the event, she expresses remorse about how the city funneled its anger toward the teen.
"It's like, who hasn't done stupid stuff?" Fitzgerald says. "And who hasn't been really dumb when they were 16? It weighs on me, what's happened to these kids."
Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the start of the over 40,000-acre Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge. The teenager now owes $36 million in restitution.
The documentary, Forest on Fire, was filmed by Portlanders Reed Harkness and Heather Hawksford. Harkness says choosing to report the teens is "a huge weight to carry" for Fitzgerald. "She has felt very alone with that," he says.
Forest on Fire chronicles the first 48 hours of the blaze from the perspective of six of the 150 hikers stranded near Punchbowl Falls when it ignited and a few residents of Cascade Locks, who were prepared to evacuate.
It was created for visual storytelling magazine Topic, and features hikers' firsthand accounts of being dropped notes from helicopters to stay put, singing to keep spirits up and snuffing out sparks that fell from the sky into nearby brush in order to avoid being chased by more flames.
Harkness says focusing on the stories of those people closest to the fire was intentional.
"There's been a lot of coverage of this fire and surprisingly a lot of people don't feel like their story has been heard," Harkness says. "I wanted to focus on people who were closely affected by the fire and what went on for them personally."
He adds that the filmmaking process has changed his perspective of the Gorge in that he no longer views it as damaged forest land.
"I think this fire is just a part of the life of the forest and only brings a new interest to the the scenery," he says. "Also, after making the film, and getting to know the people in Cascade Locks and the hikers, I was so inspired by their strength of community. It was sort of a revelation to me that in an emergency this big, it might not be the government or the people we think of as leaders who help us, but our smaller community who rises up to get through it together."