A raging Arizona wildfire that has sent plumes of smoke across state lines into Colorado towns is reported to have been started by a camper who disposed of his used toilet paper by setting it on fire.
On Sunday morning, Coconino National Forest officials spotted the Pipeline Fire from a lookout about six miles north of Flagstaff in the northern part of the state. In the latest update shared by InciWeb Monday night, forest managers estimated that the fire had burned about 5,000 acres — nearly the equivalent of four American football fields.
Initially, Forest Service police said they had arrested and charged a 57-year-old man with natural resource violations, they said, without providing further details.
However, it was reported on Monday by the Arizona Daily Sun that the 57-year-old man, identified in court documents as Matthew Riser, was the suspect arrested in connection with the raging Arizona wildfire that has forced hundreds of people from their homes and thousands more who are being told by authorities to leave their homes. prepare for future evacuation orders.
When he appeared on Monday during a pre-trial detention hearing at the U.S. District Court, District of Arizona in Flagstaff, Mr. Riser’s attorney described how his client had camped this weekend in the Coconino National Forest and lit used toilet paper at 12:00 p.m. the Saturday before the fire broke out. He then allegedly placed it under a rock about 80 meters from where the fire is said to have started.
In a statement from the legal proceeding, forest authorities said on Sunday morning, when the fire was first noticed, “a male test subject was driving a white Chevrolet pickup truck with an RV scale bearing [a] Louisiana license plate” that was seen “speeding away” from where the suspected origin of the wildfire, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.
The court documents state that the driver of the white pickup truck was stopped on State Route 180, where he identified himself as Mr. Riser. After he was detained, the 57-year-old reportedly told authorities about the burning of the toilet paper and said they did not expect the paper to smolder overnight.
Mr. Riser allegedly used his own sleeping bag in an attempt to extinguish the flames the next morning, but they had quickly grown into a “200 ft by 200 ft fire,” according to the affidavit filed by the Flagstaff US Law Firm.
“Everything was on fire, including the pine trees,” Mr Riser said, according to the affidavit.
The camper reportedly took a deputy sergeant to where he burned the toilet paper and the officer reportedly noted in court records where the “pile of human feces” was described by the man as being under a rock near his campsite.
The park, the affidavit noted, had posted signs throughout the campground where Mr. Riser had stayed for two days indicating “no campfires” were allowed.
Mr. Riser is charged with three charges, including building, maintaining, attending or using a fire while constrained, possessing marijuana, and residing on or occupying forest service land. Any of these charges could result in a fine or jail time if convicted.
For his part, Mr Riser’s lawyer has claimed there is “zero evidence” that his client is responsible for the raging wildfire that tripled between Sunday and Monday and reached zero percent as of Tuesday morning. He also alleges that his client did not live in the state forest as charged, but stayed at the campground after visiting a friend nearby while traveling in his motor home.
The next hearing on Riser’s detention is scheduled for Thursday.