JULY 2---The largest wildfire burning in Arizona was started during a bachelor party when one shotgun-toting celebrant fired a shell that promises to shoot ?100 feet of fire, setting everything in its path ablaze,? The Smoking Gun has learned.
The Sunflower Fire--which has burned nearly 18,000 acres of the Tonto National Forest and is not fully contained--began in mid-May after five Arizona men gathered to celebrate the upcoming May 19 nuptials of Bryan Reeder. The group--all in their mid-20s--traveled from Mesa to the Sycamore Creek area for a weekend ?campout and bachelor party,? according to court records.
On Saturday, May 12, the quintet awoke and ?began to target shoot in an area close to their camp,? a United States Forest Service agent reported in a sworn affidavit. About two hours into the target shooting, Craig Shiflet (pictured at right) loaded an ?incendiary shotgun shell? into his Remington 12 gauge and fired the round.
Tyler Pace, another bachelor party attendee, told investigators that after Shiflet fired the round, he ?noticed smoke in the brush just behind? where the round landed in vegetation. Pace said the entire group ?ran over to where the smoke was and noticed fire, which they unsuccessfully attempted to stomp out.?
As the fire rapidly grew, the 23-year-old Shiflet called 911 and reported the blaze (and was instructed to leave the area by a police dispatcher).
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.
A warning on the Fiocchi 12 gauge round?s packaging made its danger clear: ?Shoots 100 feet of fire, setting everything in its path ablaze. Warning: Extreme FIRE HAZARD.?
On June 22, Shiflet was named in a three-count misdemeanor criminal complaint accusing him of causing the Sunflower Fire, which has destroyed 17,618 acres (and is now 80 percent contained). A Tonto National Forest spokesperson estimated that fire suppression efforts have so far cost $6 million.
Shiflet was served with a federal summons last Wednesday by a federal agent who met up with him at a McDonald?s in Phoenix. Shiflet, who did not respond to a TSG message sent to his Facebook page, is scheduled to appear July 13 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. (6 pages)