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Lost Arizona hiker hoped smoke signals would save him. Now he's been convicted of starting forest fire

Philip Powers told investigators he got lost while hiking in the Coconino National Forest. He started a fire in an attempt to get the attention of rescuers.
The Sycamore Fire burning near Sedona May 28, 2018. (Photo: Coconino National Forest)

COCONINO COUNTY, Ariz. — An Arizona hiker who started a forest fire in 2018 after he got lost has been put on probation for one year by a federal judge and ordered to pay over $293,000 in restitution.

Philip A. Powers III was found guilty earlier this month of violating fire restrictions and burning timber without a permit for actions that resulted in a forest fire that burned several acres northwest of Sedona.

U.S. District Judge Camille Bibles additionally ordered Powers to pay $293,413 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage caused by the 2018 fires. The penalty can be paid in monthly installments of $200, according to the judge's order.

Powers has already filed an appeal of his conviction, records show.

The defendant told investigators he set out on a 17-mile hike on the morning of May 27, 2018. After passing Taylor Cabin in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, Powers said he lost the trail and eventually decided to hike back to the cabin.

The hiker told investigators he was running out of water and couldn't get a signal on his cell phone.

"Powers said he decided to start a fire, make some smoke, and hoped one of the planes flying over would see the smoke and call for help," investigators wrote in court records.

Powers admitted to starting multiple fires before he was spotted and rescued, court records show.

The U.S. Forest Service determined Powers was negligent for not bringing an adequate amount of supplies for a 17-mile hike, resulting in prosecutors filing criminal charges in federal court.

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