Pipeline Fire: Man pleads guilty to starting wildfire near Flagstaff
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Pipeline Fire sparked just a few miles from Flagstaff and according to court documents, it was caused by a man who lit his toilet paper on fire after defecating in the forest.
The fire was reported at 10:15 a.m. and it started 6 miles north of Flagstaff on June 12. The fire is growing rapidly as 40 to 50 mph winds continued to spread it in all directions.
Officials said the Pipeline Fire has burned 26,532 acres and is 90% contained.
Just miles from this fire is the Haywire Fire, which burned more than 5,000 acres.
Man lit toilet paper on fire, documents say
Matthew Riser was taken into custody in connection to this fire just hours after it began after a witness reported seeing a white truck leave the scene of the fire near Snowbowl Road.
"The driver, a 57-year-old male, was detained until Federal Law Enforcement Officers from the United States Forest Service arrived. The male was arrested by Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers and booked into the Coconino County Sheriff’s Detention Facility for Federal Natural Resource," the sheriff's office said.
According to federal arrest documents, Riser told authorities he had lit toilet paper on fire and had placed it under a rock near Forest Road 9002 at noon on June 11. His camp was 80 yards from where the wildfire started.
"Riser said he burned his ‘s*** paper’ at noon yesterday and didn't think it would smolder all night," documents read.
The 57-year-old showed deputies locations where he had defecated and where he had burnt the toilet paper.
Riser changed his plea in federal court on July 13 to guilty. He is accused of numerous violations, including using a fire, occupying forest service lands and marijuana possession.
Ducey declares state of emergency
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on June 16 declared a state of emergency in response to the Pipeline Fire, which burned over 20,000 acres and caused evacuations in Coconino County.
"Public safety is our top priority," Ducey said in a news release. "As state and local fire officials work to contain the blaze, our office will ensure emergency officials have the resources to respond to and recover from the fire’s scars. We will continue to work with our partners on the ground to provide all support necessary to mitigate the fire and protect people, pets and property. We continue to pray for the safety of all firefighters and first responders who are battling hot and windy conditions. For a community still recovering from the path of the Tunnel Fire in April, this new blaze is a reminder for all Arizonans to be vigilant and safe this wildfire season."
Check road conditions at https://az511.gov/, or call 511.
All evacuations have been lifted for the Pipeline and Haywire Fires.
For the latest information on closures in the Coconino National Forest, visit www.fs.usda.gov/coconino/.
Pipeline Fire. Photo by NWS Flagstaff
Timeline of the Pipeline Fire
Matthew Riser, the 57-year-old man accused of starting the Pipeline Fire, changed his plea to guilty in a federal court.
The fire has burned 26,532 acres and is now 70% contained.
The Pipeline Fire is now 60% contained, officials said. The fire has burned 26,528 acres 6 miles north of Flagstaff.
The Pipeline Fire has burned 26,297 acres and remains 27% contained.
Officials said the Pipeline Fire has now burned 24,815 acres and is 27% contained.
The forecast in the Flagstaff area calls for a chance of showers and thunderstorms starting Friday and throughout the weekend, which could help suppress the wildfires. Flooding and dry lightning also are concerns.
Parts of the Coconino and Kaibab national forests will be closed starting Friday, including popular trails and camping areas, because of the wildfire danger. Forest officials said more extensive or even full forest closures could come if conditions worsen. Campfires aren’t allowed anywhere in the forests under current restrictions.
Authorities have reopened one lane of U.S. Route 89, the primary route between northern Arizona and the Navajo Nation up into Utah. Drivers also use it to get to the east rim of the Grand Canyon.
Evacuees begin returning home
The first thing people notice when driving into Flagstaff is the bright blue skies that turn into a thick gray-brown smog overhead. Easily seen and smelled.
But another thing to notice: There's not as much wind. And that’s one of the main reasons people in the Timberline neighborhood are finally back home after four days.
Ian Gill is unpacking, but a bit unnerved. He's back home.
But the second wildfire in six weeks - is still breathing down his neck.
"It feels good," Gill said. "It’s a little nerve-racking to be here because it could still come back or another fire. A third fire, which would really suck."
Ian lives on the good side of a new dividing line.
The Timberline area is just below the mountain and east of the fire lines.
There's large lots, and many of them with farm animals.
Jim Cornelius returned to check out his half built garage and his neighbor's property.
"Not terrifying because I’m OK, I know, [my] neighbors are physically okay, but man you don’t want to lose the house, you don’t want to lose your property," Cornelius said.
These residents are safe for now, but are still worried about this fire or the potential next one. But at least they're getting pretty good at this evacuation thing.
"It’s good to be back, but it’s just really depressing with the devastation and all these fires, so still a little bummed," said Ian Gill.
No word yet when people on the other side of the road block will be allowed back home, but residents hope that it's soon.
A Flagstaff woman says she cannot be forced to leave her home as she stays in her house, refusing to follow evacuation orders. She says she doesn't want to risk the life of her animals and that if she tries to wrangle them up, they would flee because they are prey animals.
The fire has burned more than 6,500 acres with two other fires burning just miles from it. Evacuation orders have also been updated.
There is no containment and 2,000 homes have been evacuated.
FEMA has authorized the use of federal funds to help the state combat the Pipeline Fire.
A second wildfire, dubbed the Haywire Fire, has sprouted further east in the Coconino National Forest.