Hiker owes $300,000 for Arizona wildfire he started

There’s yet another dumb hiker in the news for starting a wildfire to signal rescuers after he got lost. Philip Powers, a resident of Tempe, Arizona, argued in court that the fire he set in 2018 was necessary to save his life. But a federal court found that he was so unprepared that he created his own emergency.

Backpacker Magazine reported that the 37-year-old hiker in the rugged Sycamore Canyon Wilderness northwest of Sedona, in late May 2018, had barely slept and had muscle cramps in his legs. He’d also found a rattlesnake in the sheepherder shack where he’d overnighted. It was 14 miles back to his car, he was out of food and water, and he had no cell signal. Powers later told a USFS law enforcement officer that he feared he was “done.”

2018 Sycamore Fire in Arizona, looking north. USFS photo.
2018 Sycamore Fire in Arizona, looking north. USFS photo.

He’d tried the night before to start a signal fire, but it quickly burned out. He tried again, piling dry foliage around the base of a snag and firing it up with his Bic lighter. He hoped that the dead tree would go up in flames, and someone would see it and come to his rescue. But the fire got away, tripled in size in one day, and quickly grew to 230 acres; the Sycamore Fire took over a week to contain. A federal district court recently convicted him for his actions in 2018, and Powers now owes the feds almost $300,000 in restitution — and a year of probation.

Fronteras Desk reported that Judge Camille Bibles didn’t buy the hiker’s excuses. “Had Powers engaged in adequate preparation in planning and carried adequate water, food and gear, he would not have found himself in his circumstances,” she wrote. “Thus, the court finds that Powers’ necessity defense fails, as he created the conditions necessitating the commission of the fires, and his subsequent rescue.”

Powers faced 3½ years in prison for the seven misdemeanors he was charged with. Judge Bibles sentenced him to seven concurrent one-year probation periods instead. He also owes the Forest Service more than $293,000 in restitution, which he will make in $200 monthly payments.

In addition, the judge ordered Powers to complete a hiking safety course.

According to 12News in Arizona, he’s already filed an appeal of his conviction.