FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A California man was arrested yesterday on suspicion of leaving behind hot coals at a campsite just outside Flagstaff, sparking a wildfire that forced the evacuation of 170 homes and a hotel near downtown, a city spokeswoman said.
Randall Wayne Nicholson, 54, was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of burning of a wildland, Kimberly Ott said. Nicholson, whose hometown was not immediately available, was being held on a $2,500 bond at the Coconino County Detention Facility.
Authorities said he was camping in a wooded area a couple of miles from downtown when he built a small campfire Saturday for either cooking or making coffee. Investigators believe he dumped coals from the fire on the ground before leaving the site. “As far as we understand, this was not a deliberate act. It was a careless act,’’ Ott said.
The wildfire quickly spread up a hill and threatened homes in two neighborhoods. Evacuation orders for 170 homes remained in place yesterday, and a park and popular bike trail were closed as a precaution, Coconino County spokeswoman Joanne Keene said.
Fire officials said a second wildfire forced evacuations in neighborhoods north of Flagstaff yesterday. The fire was spotted on the north end of Shultz Pass, between the San Francisco Peaks and Mount Elden.