Man accused of sparking Sunflower Fire due in federal court today

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The man accused of starting the Sunflower Fire -- the largest Arizona wildfire this year -- is due in federal court Friday.

This will be the first court appearance for Steven Shiflet, 23, since he was charged.

Investigators believe the Mesa man started the wildfire near Payson by firing a shotgun while on a bachelor party camping trip in the Sycamore Creek area on May 12.

Shiflet is charged with negligently placing an ignited substance that may cause a fire, firing incendiary ammunition, and causing a fire -- all on National Forest lands.

A conviction for each of the charges carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.

While there were no fire restrictions in place when the Sunflower Fire started, tracer bullets and incendiary ammunition are banned all the time.

Guns spark several fires every year. In 2010, seven fires were started by guns. That number increased to 10 in 2011, and already five fires have been blamed on firearms in 2012.

“It’s kind of a continual frustration for us, some people are just going to do whatever they want to do,” said David Albo with the Tonto National Forest.

The Sunflower Fire burned nearly 17,500 acres. It was finally contained on July 5. The firefight has cost $6 million dollars to date.

Shiflet is scheduled to be in court at 3 p.m.