FOREST LAKES, Ariz.- The Coconino County Sheriff's Office confirmed a man suspected of starting multiple fires and assaulting a Forest Service employee last week was seen Saturday afternoon on the Fort Apache Reservation.
On July 4, the suspect allegedly fired at a Forest Service fire prevention officer with a handgun and a shotgun at close rage. Authorities said the man allegedly set eight fires in the Canyon Point Campground near Payson, northeast of the Valley, the night before.
A witness who lives in Cibecue on the White Mountain Apache Reservation said he spotted the man who he believes is the suspected arsonist right in his own backyard about 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
The Navajo County Sheriff's Office, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Federal Bureau of Investigations and White Mountain Apache Tribe responded Sunday by setting up a perimeter near where he was spotted, NCSO said.
"They approached him. He fled the area. Law enforcement came out here," said Jim Molesa, chief deputy for the NCSO.
Molesa said the witness positively identified the gunman when he was shown photos of him. The witness told authorities the man didn't threaten him, but he did notice the trespasser was armed.
"So we think we're looking for the same individual," Molesa said.
The incident only intensified what has been a complex search, now going on for almost a week.
"Literally beating the bushes trying to find this individual," he said.
About 50 people are searching by air and ground. The FBI joined the search for the suspect on Wednesday.
Over the last month, he has been seen in areas ranging from Star Valley, AZ and north to Forest Lakes, AZ, CCSO said. Molesa said the suspect is adept at hiking in the back country and likely has equipment to sustain himself while on the run.
According to CCSO, the suspect was dropped off by a vehicle near Highway 60 and Cibecue Road and mentioned he was headed toward Mexico.
"We'll go as long as we can until we find him," Molesa said.
The suspect was seen wearing the same clothes he has been photographed in, a blue short-sleeve shirt with white long-sleeve shirt underneath, and carrying three bags, CCSO said.
He is considered armed and dangerous and believed to be carrying a handgun and shotgun, according to CCSO.
CCSO reminds the public not to approach the suspect and instead call law enforcement immediately. If you have information about the identity or location of this person please contact Coconino County Sheriff’s Office: 928-774-4523 1-800-338-7888 or Silent Witness: 928-774-6111.