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Man who started wildfire sentenced to probation

PHOENIX — A Mesa man was sentenced to two years of probation Monday for
having sparked the third largest wildfire in Arizona last year by firing a
flame-throwing shotgun round during a camping trip.

Steven Craig Shiflet, 25, had pleaded guilty late last year to federal
misdemeanors and admitted starting the nearly 18,000-acre Sunflower wildfire
near Payson on May 12 when he and four friends went to the Sycamore Creek area
for a campout and bachelor party.

Authorities say vegetation caught fire after Shiflet fired an incendiary
shotgun shell at an empty soda box during target practice. The group called
authorities and tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire. Incendiary shotgun
shells fire flames rather than gunshot.

“This is something I absolutely never intended to happen and I am extremely
sorry for,” Shiflet told U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Logan before he was

The fire didn’t cause any injuries or damage to homes or buildings, but it
cleared out trees and vegetation and made the area vulnerable to a flood that
occurred later in the year, said Tonto National Forest spokeswoman Paige

Prosecutors weren’t seeking to have Shiflet pay the $4.4 million in
firefighting costs because such costs weren’t included in the plea agreement.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Shiflet, declined to say whether it
would file a civil case against him to recoup those costs.

The wildfire was the state’s third largest last year when measured in acres.
The state had 1,684 wildfires last year that burned a total of 216,000 acres.

Officials believe a few dozen fires in the West last year were started by
people using firearms.

Logan said Shiflet had led what appeared to be an otherwise model life and that
locking him up isn’t necessary because he isn’t likely to repeat his mistake.

Shiflet pleaded guilty last year to firing incendiary ammunition and causing
trees and brush to burn without authorization. The maximum possible penalty he
faced was one year in prison. He was fined $2,000 and ordered to serve 200
community-service hours working with the Forest Service.

Shiflet’s attorney, Elizabeth Kruschek, said her client is a productive person
who made a mistake and cooperated fully with investigators. “This is someone
who has taken full responsibility,” Kruschek said.

Prosecutor Vincent Kirby said Shiflet didn’t start the fire with malice but
pointed out that the incendiary shotgun round had a warning on it about extreme
fire danger.


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