Arizona man pleads guilty to starting 2019 Cottonwood Creek Fire in Grand Canyon National Park

Thomas Grabarek will pay $53,520 for restitution
Sunset in Grand Canyon as seen from Grand Canyon Village, AZ.
Sunset in Grand Canyon as seen from Grand Canyon Village, AZ.(Source: National Park Service (custom credit) | Source: National Park Service)
Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 10:27 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Following an investigation by Special Agents of the National Park Service and U.S. Park Rangers, a Flagstaff man pled guilty to misdemeanor violations for starting a wildland fire within Grand Canyon National Park.

Thomas Grabarek, 71, pled guilty on Sept. 8, 2020 to misdemeanor violations for starting the Cottonwood Creek Fire which spread approximately 64 acres in the Inner Canyon along the Tonto Trail near Horseshoe Mesa.

In Oct. 2019, while backpacking in the area Grabarek started a fire by lighting toilet paper in an attempt to incinerate it. High winds that day allowed the fire to quickly spread uphill, requiring immediate response by NPS wildland fire personnel.

In his plea agreement, Grabarek agreed to pay restitution totaling $53,520.03. These funds will help park managers rehabilitate the burned area over the course of the next four years. Grabarek also agreed to perform community service by making a public service announcement and assisting NPS staff in the creation of educational signs to be posted in the Backcountry Information Center regarding the dangers of burning toilet paper in the backcountry.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, nearly 85 percent of all wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans. If you are hiking and camping below the rim of Grand Canyon, gas stoves may be used, but campfires and other open fires are never allowed.

For more information on fire regulations at Grand Canyon National Park, click HERE.

To report a suspicious or criminal activity in a national park site, call the NPS Tip Line at 1-888-653-0009.

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