PHOENIX — A man burning toilet paper may have started a wildfire in Flagstaff over the weekend that has burned thousands of acres, authorities said.
Matthew Riser, 57, was arrested in connection to the Pipeline Fire, which began Sunday morning about 6 miles north of Flagstaff and had burned about 5,000 acres late Sunday. He was charged with federal natural resource violations, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said in press release.
Riser allegedly told authorities he lit toilet paper on fire around noon on Saturday and placed it under a rock several feet from a National Forest System Road, according to the probable cause statement.
The man said he tried to put out the fire with his sleeping bag and that his camp was around 80 yards from where the fire started, according to the complaint filed in federal court.
He saw the wildfire on Sunday, telling authorities he didn’t think the toilet paper would smolder all night, according to the probable cause statement.
Witnesses told deputies they saw a white pickup truck in the area when the fire began around 11 a.m. Authorities later conducted a traffic stop when they spotted the vehicle.
Riser told authorities he only became aware of fire restrictions upon seeing signs while driving out.
A search of the man’s vehicle revealed a lighter with a long tip that was used to ignite the toilet paper, according to the complaint.
Riser, who told authorities he was homeless, had camped in Payson then drove to the area and stayed for two days.
Brady Smith with the Coconino National Forest told KTAR News 92.3 FM the toilet paper is what appears to be the start of the fire but there is still an ongoing investigation to confirm.
The Federal Emergency Management Assistance said Monday that disaster relief funds would be made available to assist in fighting the fire, which threatened about 2,100 homes, schools, cultural sites and transmission lines.
Authorities said Monday night they couldn’t get an accurate updated number of acreage because of high winds but said one structure has burned so far.
Riser’s next court appearance is set for Thursday.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Tasler-Oatley contributed to this report.
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