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Plea deal struck in Pipeline Fire area arrest

The man accused of starting a fire yards away from where the Pipeline Fire exploded in the San Francisco Peaks above Flagstaff last month pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge Wednesday. 

Matthew Riser faced three misdemeanor counts, a marijuana charge, living in the national forest, and a count for starting a fire where none were allowed. The U.S. government agreed to drop the residence and the marijuana charges. A federal judge sentenced him to one year probation for the lone remaining charge. 

The Pipeline Fire burned through more than 40 square miles of Flagstaff’s biggest mountain range. It leveled watersheds and caused massive flooding on the town’s east and west sides. More flooding is expected this month from the fire’s large burn scar. Federal law enforcement agents said Riser had burned his used toilet paper the day before the Pipeline Fire started but didn’t think it would smolder all night. 

He reportedly told agents he’d tried to put the fire out with his sleeping bag but by then, the fire had raged out of control.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.