Man accused of starting huge wildfire in Arizona burned toilet paper, officials say

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona (KTVK/KPHO/Gray News) – Authorities on Sunday arrested a Louisiana man who they say started the Pipeline Fire, an Arizona wildfire that has so far destroyed more than 20,000 acres and forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.

Court documents have revealed officials arrested Matthew Riser, 57, for starting the raging fire just north of Flagstaff.

Upon investigation, deputies found that Riser had lit toilet paper on fire in the forest and then attempted to flee the area in a van.

The documents say Riser first told Coconino County deputies he was camping when he saw the spark of fire. When asked if he had seen any “no campfire” signs, Riser said no, but that he soon saw “a fire 200 feet by 200 feet” and “everything was on fire “.

During a second interview with another deputy, Riser then allegedly admitted to lighting toilet paper and then attempting to put out the fire with his sleeping bag. Court documents say he also later admitted seeing the “no campfire” signs.

Riser said he used a white Bic lighter to set fire to the toilet paper, which deputies found in the van’s center console. Riser also told deputies he had marijuana in his truck. While marijuana is legal in Arizona, he could face a charge for having it on federal land.

Riser said he was homeless and had been camping in the forest for two days.

Forest Service law enforcement said Riser was arrested and charged with natural resource violations. He appeared before a federal magistrate Monday morning in Flagstaff.

It’s unclear what other charges he may face related to the wildfire.

The pipeline fire was first reported at 10:15 a.m. Sunday by a fire watcher. By late evening it had burned about 4,000 to 5,000 acres, pushing about 15 miles. By Tuesday morning, the fire had exploded over more than 20,000 acres.

More than 600 firefighters are on the front lines of the Pipeline Fire and several mandatory evacuations are underway.

A state of emergency was declared Monday in Flagstaff, prompting the evacuation of hundreds of homes.

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