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First take

A person – officials haven’t yet released whether male or female, much less a name – was mowing a lawn on July 30, some miles east of Canyonville. He or she was doing this on one of the days when mowing was prohibited, but the moving in and of itself wasn’t an unusual kind of activity, or something most people might reasonably assume would trigger a massive wildfire. Somehow, though, accidentally and inadvertently, that is what happened. The Stouts Creek fire, as it has been labeled, has become a big deal, involving upwards of 1,500 firefighters from across 23 states plus Canada, and whole platoons of equipment. The cost of fighting that fire has topped $22 million so far. The Oregon Forestry Department then added this: “Because of the [timing] violation, the individual may be liable for fire suppression costs and damages resulting from the fire.” In other words, the rather petty offense of mowing a lawn during an hour of the day when it was supposed to be banned – mowing at 3 p.m. rather than 10 a.m., say – lands you a penalty of more than $22 million. Seems irrational. Failing to put out a campfire, which most of us know can lead to wildfires, ought to be in a different category than mowing a lawn. A fine? Okay. $22 million, which will never be paid? Someone’s lost a sense of proportion there.

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