Man charged with starting massive Arizona wildfire burned toilet paper, officials say

Police arrested Matthew Riser after officials said he started the Pipeline Fire by burning toilet paper. (Source: Kyle House, Zack Reynolds, Mia Armstrong, CNN)
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 1:09 PM CDT
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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (KTVK/KPHO/Gray News) – Authorities arrested a Louisiana man Sunday who they say started the Pipeline Fire, a wildfire in Arizona that has so far destroyed more than 20,000 acres and caused hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.

Court documents revealed that officials arrested 57-year-old Matthew Riser for starting the fire that is raging just north of Flagstaff.

Upon investigation, deputies found that Riser lit toilet paper on fire in the forest and then tried to flee the area in a pickup truck.

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

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

Riser said he used a white Bic lighter to set the toilet paper on fire, which deputies found in the center console of the pickup truck. 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 could face related to the wildfire.

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

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

A state of emergency was declared in Flagstaff on Monday, leading to the evacuation of hundreds of homes.

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