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MAN BLAMED FOR WILDFIRE FACES $3 MILLION BILL, PLUS CRIMINAL CHARGES

SHARE MAN BLAMED FOR WILDFIRE FACES $3 MILLION BILL, PLUS CRIMINAL CHARGES

A California man whose burning toilet paper allegedly set off one of last summer's worst wildfires faces a bill estimated at about $3 million as well as criminal charges in U.S. District Court.

Phillip J. Arnold will be charged with the full suppression costs of the 9,000-acre Eagle Bar fire, Payette National Forest officials said Friday.Forest authorities still are investigating the exact costs of the fire, but a price tag of about $3 million was placed on the blaze when it was contained in September.

Arnold, a graduate student studying at the University of Sydney in New South Wales, could not be reached by phone Friday.

If he chooses to return to the United States, he could face a maximum criminal penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Forest officials say the Eagle Bar blaze was touched off in late August after Arnold burned his toilet paper. Grass and brush in Hells Canyon - the deepest gorge in North America - was extremely dry at the time.

Federal agent Chuck Hawkins said even though outdoor clubs and wilderness regulations advise burning toilet paper, federal law requires the forest to charge Arnold for the full cost of fighting the fire.

"We're required to bill the person for suppression costs regardless of whether it was intentional or unintentional," he said.

David Olson, spokesman for the Payette forest, said, "We're proceeding with collection of the suppression costs of the fire."

Because of the drought and high winds, the Eagle Bar burned in an uncharacteristic fashion, at one point causing 30 firefighters to dive into fire shelters while the flames blew over them.

The pilot of a plane leading retardant tankers over the fire also had to make an emergency landing in Hells Canyon Reservoir when he ran out of fuel. The pilot survived but the plane sank to the bottom of the reservoir.