Jul 2, 2012 8:05 PM
PHOENIX (AP) - A Mesa man has been charged with starting a wildfire that burned nearly 18,000 acres near Payson.
Federal prosecutors say 23-year-old Steven Craig Shiflet was target shooting with a group of friends at Sycamore Creek in May when he fired a shotgun loaded with a flame-shooting shell. Shiflet told investigators that he pointed the gun at a soda box in a cleared area.
Authorities say smoke appeared in the bushes shortly after, and the group couldn't extinguish the blaze.
Shiflet faces three charges, each which carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted.
The Sunflower Fire in the Tonto National Forest hasn't been active in weeks but remains 80 percent contained.
Pictured: The Sunflower Fire on May 13, courtesy David Albo, TNF