On Sunday morning, Coconino National Forest officials spotted the Pipeline Fire through a fire lookout, about six miles north of Flagstaff in the northern part of the state. In the latest update shared by InciWeb on Monday night, forest officials estimated the fire had burned approximately 5,000 acres – nearly the equivalent of four American football fields.
Initially, Forest Service law enforcement had stated that they’d arrested and charged a 57-year-old man with natural resource violations, they said, without providing further details.
By Monday, however, it was reported by the Arizona Daily Sun that the 57-year-old man, identified in court documents as Matthew Riser, was the suspect who had been arrested in connection with the raging Arizona wildfire that has forced hundreds of people to leave their homes with thousands more being told by authorities to prepare for future evacuation orders.
While appearing at a pretrial detention hearing at the US District Court, District of Arizona in Flagstaff on Monday, Mr Riser’s attorney described how his client had been camping at the Coconino National Forest over the weekend and had ignited used toilet paper at noon on the Saturday before the fire broke out. He reportedly then placed it under a rock, approximately 80 yards from where the fire is reported to have begun.
In a statement from the court proceedings, forest authorities reported that on the Sunday morning when the fire was first spotted, they saw “a male subject in a white Chevrolet pickup truck with a camper shell bearing [a] Louisiana licence plate” who was seen “driving rapidly away” from where the wildfire’s suspected origin point, 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 being stopped, the 57-year-old reportedly told the authorities about burning the toilet paper and said that the didn’t expect the paper to continue smouldering overnight.
Mr Riser is said to have used his own sleeping bag in an attempt to put out the flames the next morning, but they’d quickly grown to become a “200 ft by 200 ft fire”, according to the affidavit filed by the Flagstaff US Attorney’s Office.
“Everything was on fire including the pine trees,” Mr Riser said, according to the affidavit.
The camper reportedly took a deputy sergeant to the spot where he’d burnt the toilet paper and the officer reportedly noted in the court filings where the “pile of human faeces” was, which had been described by the man to be under a rock near his campsite.
The park, the affidavit noted, had signs posted throughout the campground where Mr Riser had been staying for two days that indicated there were “no campfires” permitted.
Mr Riser has been charged with three citations, including building, maintaining, attending or using a fire during restrictions, possession of marijuana and residing on or occupying forest service lands. Each of these charges could result in a fine or jail time, should he be convicted.
EXCLUSIVE: Matthew Riser leaving federal court. He was arrested Sunday in connection to #PipelineFire. Riser's attorney argues: he lit toilet paper the day before the fire, it rained in between that time & the fire sparked 80 yards away from where Riser was.@abc15 @CoconinoCounty pic.twitter.com/djCSXE86We
— Ashley Paredez (@AshleyOnABC15) June 13, 2022
For his part, Mr Riser’s attorney has claimed that there is “zero evidence” that his client is responsible for the raging wildfire that tripled in size between Sunday and Monday and has zero per cent contained as of Tuesday morning. He also contends that his client was not living in the national forest, as he’s been charged with, but was staying at the campsite after visiting a friend nearby while travelling in his camper.
Mr Riser’s next detention hearing is set for Thursday.