Man accused of starting Sunflower Fire makes first court appearance

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- A Mesa man accused of starting the largest wildfire so far this year in Arizona was in federal court this week.

Steven Shiflet, 23, made his first court appearance Friday where he was appointed an attorney.

According to court records, Shiflet was one of five men who traveled to the Sycamore Creek area to attend a bachelor party. The group had been target shooting for a couple hours on the morning of May 12 when Shiflet allegedly loaded an incendiary shell into a shotgun and fired it.

A short time later smoke and flames erupted in the brush. The men reportedly tried extinguish the fire but couldn't. The flames wound up leading to the 18,000-acre Sunflower Fire.

Shiflet now faces charges of carelessly or negligently placing an ignited substance that may cause a fire on national forest land, firing incendiary ammunition on national forest lands, and causing timber, trees, brush or grass to burn on national forest lands.

All three charges are misdemeanors. If convicted, each charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Shiflet is scheduled to go to trial September 11th.