Pipeline Fire grows near Flagstaff; authorities make arrest
PHOENIX – Some communities near Flagstaff have been evacuated and federal aid approved as a wildfire grew to about 5,000 acres late Sunday.
Authorities arrested Matthew Riser, 57, in connection to the Pipeline Fire, which began Sunday morning about 6 miles north of Flagstaff. 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 a complaint filed in federal court.
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.
Sheriff’s officials ordered the evacuation of the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, areas west of Schultz Pass Road and neighborhoods on both sides of U.S. Route 89 around Sacred Mountain Trading Post.
People living in Doney Park north of Silver Saddle Road, north of Cullum Lane and east to Slayton Ranch Road were told to evacuate at about 1 p.m. Monday.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning that went into effect at 11 a.m. Sustained winds of 25-35 mph are expected and wind gusts of 40-50 mph.
Around 600 personnel were assigned to the battle the fire, which is eating up pine, grass and brush.
Eight air tankers, five helicopters, 13 engines, nine crews are among the resources battling the blaze.
A Type 2 incident management team was expected to arrive Monday to take over.
The Arizona Department of Transportation has closed U.S. Route 89. The department said in a Twitter post that there is no estimated time to reopen the road.
A shelter will be set up at the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise and Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort and the Red Cross set up a shelter at Sinagua Middle School.
The school shelter is being shared by evacuees of the Haywire Fire, burning nearby at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. That fire started Monday morning.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.