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PHOENIX — A Mesa man will stand trial in September on charges that he started the nearly 18,000-acre Sunflower Fire in the Tonto National Forest after he fired a shotgun loaded with a flame-throwing shell.

Steven Craig Shiflet made his initial appearance in federal court Friday. He faces three charges, each of which carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted.

The Arizona Republic reports that Shiflet and his family declined to comment after the hearing.

Shiflet was target shooting with a group of friends in May when he pointed the shotgun at a soda box in a cleared area. Smoke soon appeared in the brush, and the group couldn't extinguish the blaze.

Shiflet told investigators he called 911 to report the fire and was told to leave the area.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Associated Press,

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