Man who started 17,000-acre fire sentenced to probation

Sunflower fire
Sunflower fire. USFS photo by David Albo.

The man who started the 17,446-acre Sunflower Fire 34 miles northeast of Phoenix has been sentenced to two years of probation, a $2,000 fine, and 200 hours of community service to be served with the Forest Service.

It cost taxpayers $4.4 million to suppress the fire. The U.S. Forest Service did not seek restitution.

On May 12, 2012, Craig Shiflet and four of his friends woke up in the Sycamore Creek area of the Tonto National Forest during a multiday campout-bachelor party for one member of the group. Mr. Shiflet loaded a Fiocchi incendiary round into his 12 gauge shotgun and fired at a soda box, apparently unconcerned about the warning on the box of shells which stated:

Shoots 100 feet of fire, setting everything in its path ablaze. Warning: Extreme FIRE HAZARD

(Another incendiary 12 gauge shotgun shell that has a similar effect is made by Dragon’s Breath.)

The vegetation began burning and the group tried unsuccessfully to stomp the fire out. Mr. Shiflet reported the fire to 911 and was instructed to leave the area by the dispatcher.

Here is an excerpt from an article at The Smoking Gun:

Federal agents began investigating the fire the day after its ignition. Witnesses provided probers with the license plate number of a GMC Yukon that was seen departing the Sunflower Fire. The vehicle was “occupied by five white males in their 20’s,” reported Lucas Woolf, a Forest Service agent.

After tracing the SUV to Pace, Woolf approached him on May 19 (the day of Reeder’s wedding) and said he wanted to talk about the Sunflower Fire. “I think that we may have had something to do with that,” Pace replied.

Woolf then interviewed Shiflet, who recalled firing an “orange shotgun round” at a soda box, expecting the round to “shoot out flame or act like a flare gun.” Shiflet provided Woolf with the “exact same type of shotgun shell that he fired” on May 12, triggering the massive blaze.

The photo below is an example of the use of an incendiary magnesium-based shotgun shell.

flamethrower shotgun shell

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

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