Pipeline wildfire explodes to 20k acres; Northeast La. man burning toilet paper goes to court
MONROE, La. (KNOE) - An Arizona wildfire suspected to have been started by a Northeast Louisiana man has grown considerably in size in the past 24 hours.
The Pipeline Fire is now 20,000 acres in size, according to incident data published online. The fire was first spotted Sunday, just six miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona. A day ago, the fire was reported to be around 5,000 acres in size. Wind has been a problem, as noted on the incident page online, “Critical fire, warm and windy conditions, which are pushing the wildfire toward the east and Schultz Pass.”
Matthew Riser, 57, of West Monroe, was arrested in connection with the massive wildfire. Federal authorities suspect his actions sparked the out-of-control fire over the weekend.
According to the documents describing his arrest, Riser said he was camping in the Coconino National Forest on Saturday when he lit some toilet paper on fire and placed it under a rock, leaving it there. He said he didn’t think it would smolder all night and he tried to put it out with his sleeping bag.
Flames were reported by a fire lookout around 10:15 a.m. on Sunday. It was around this time that someone reported seeing Riser’s truck quickly leaving the area. Documents state Riser was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy outside the national forest.
His Louisiana driver’s license was used to confirm his identity. Upon questioning, he reportedly told investigators he had been camping in the area when he described seeing a “200 ft by 200 ft fire, everything was on fire including pine trees.” Riser was able to show investigators where he did his business near his campsite and where he burnt his toilet paper.
Riser appeared in court on Monday for a pretrial hearing, according to the Arizona Daily Sun. His lawyer denied that Riser was responsible for the fire, saying that Riser’s campsite was 80 yards away from where the fire started and that the area is heavily trafficked.
The paper reported that Riser will have a detention and status hearing on Thursday.
Meanwhile, two other out-of-control wildfires merged Monday evening nearby as crews contend with the fast-growing Pipeline Fire.
Coconino National Forests say a third fire called dubbed the “Double Fire” was burning not far from the Haywire Fire which had burned about 1,600 acres. The “Double Fire” had been estimated at 500 acres and originated about 2 miles south and southwest of where the Haywire Fire originated. While investigators are still working to learn what caused that fire, they are suspecting it started from a lightning strike in a storm that happened sometime in the last few days. The forest is closed north of Interstate 40.
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