A 57-year-old man arrested on suspicion of sparking a 5,000-acre forest fire in Arizona told deputies he was burning used toilet paper Saturday while living in the Coconino National Forest.
The Pipeline fire was first reported shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday, roughly six miles north of Flagstaff, Ariz. Hundreds of Coconino County residents were ordered to evacuate as strong winds fanned the flames, according to emergency officials.
Less than an hour after the fire was reported, a sheriff’s deputy spotted a Chevrolet pickup driving away from the area. The deputy pulled over the driver, who initially said he was camping when he spotted the wildfire, according to charging documents filed in court.
The driver, later identified as Matthew Riser of Louisiana, then said he had burned used toilet paper with a lighter at noon the day before and placed it under a rock. He told the deputy he didn’t think the fire would smolder all night and did not see the “No campfires” signs posted throughout the area.
Riser said he saw a 200-by-200-foot blaze, and “everything was on fire, including pine trees,” according to the deputy’s affidavit.
After another deputy arrived, Riser told them he had camped in the town of Payson, then drove into the national forest and camped there for two days. Riser agreed to a search of his vehicle, according to the affidavit, and deputies found an undisclosed amount of marijuana and a white lighter, which he said he used to set fire to toilet paper.
Riser showed a deputy where he had burned his toilet paper near the campsite. The deputy found human feces under a rock.
Riser was booked on suspicion of building an illegal fire, living on U.S. Forest Service land and possessing a controlled substance, according to federal charging documents.
Winds reached up to 50 mph Monday and continued to fan the Pipeline fire as it burned toward scars from the 2010 Schultz fire and April’s Tunnel fire, which destroyed more than 20 homes.
Two other fires, Haywire and Doubles, have been reported in the same region. All three were 0% contained as of Monday afternoon, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Brady Smith.
The Haywire and Doubles fires are expected to merge, and all three would be combined into the Pipeline fire incident response, Smith said.