Fire on the Beaches

10 February 2011 § Leave a comment

The Oregon coastline is on fire.

Up and down the shoreline, less than a mile off the once-majestic beaches where Volkswagen buses and vagabonds have set up camp for entire summers, ferries and yachts and fishing boats idle in the calm Pacific water.

Three days ago, strong west winds blew through Siuslaw National Forest north of Florence, Oregon, and turned a parlor trick into an inferno. A handkerchief soaked in kerosene was set on fire by a contemptuous 13-year-old boy with a marijuana pipe and an abusive childhood. The zippo lighter he used to spark the inferno featured the Ace of Spades, a nickname his stepfather, Alberto Corozolli, earned during a 10-year card counting career in Las Vegas.

The suspect, Matthew Kritch, attempted a magic trick for a group of friends when his eyes “went bloodshot and a trident appeared in his left hand,” according to Melissa Bergman, a 14-year-old from nearby Eugene, who was present when the blaze shot up into the trees.

No one present had cell phones. Three teenagers left the campsite near the beach and called 911 thirty minutes after the fire started. Fire crews arrived an hour later. By then, the wind had spread the flames over fifty acres of national forest.

Three days into the heatwave, the wildfire had spread inland and a hundred miles both north and south of its origin. Residents as far east as Fern Ridge Lake have been evacuated from their homes, but thousands more are expected to be evacuated by week’s end.

“We’re doing all we can to keep the fire from getting into the heavily populated areas. We’ve never seen a wildfire spread this fast. It’s insane,” said Joe Ducker, a volunteer firefighter from Deadwood. He is one of hundreds of firefighters from all over western Oregon helping to quench the fire. Ducker’s own home succumbed to the flames yesterday morning.

Matthew Kritch arrived in Eugene with his family three months ago. Three weeks later, he was expelled from Northside Middle School for extortion. The school’s principal, Travis Caruthers, declined to comment on the matter.

Corozolli, on the phone from his luxury yacht moored near Cannon Beach, said “I knew the boy was trouble. Now look at the trouble he’s in. The fire is getting close to our house now, and soon he’s going to be in deeper [trouble] than he’s ever been in before.” The boy’s mother could not be reached for comment.


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