PHOENIX (AP) — Vacationers were spooked as SWAT teams roamed an eastern Arizona forest Wednesday searching for a man suspected of setting a string of fires and shooting at a U.S. Forest Service employee.
Authorities began searching for the suspect after eight fires were set Monday night near the community of Forest Lakes, about 75 miles (121 kilometers) southeast of Flagstaff.
The blazes, which were set while wildfires burned elsewhere in the state, all stayed small before being quickly extinguished.
A U.S. Forest Service fire prevention officer encountered the man Tuesday morning near the campground. Officials say the suspect used a handgun and a shotgun to fire at close range at the unarmed officer but missed. The officer fled and was not injured.
FBI and state Department of Public Safety SWAT teams joined sheriff’s deputies and tribal police to search for the man in the Canyon Point Campground in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.
Coconino County Sheriff’s officials said the search was being scaled back Wednesday night as air and ground crews have found no clues to indicate the suspect was still in the area. But they added that authorities were continuing to try to identify and locate the suspect.
Vicki Drinkwine, who owns a local cabin rental business, said one guest came to the cabin’s reception area Tuesday night to make sure staffers had locked the doors. Drinkwine said she’s also received calls from potential guests concerned about the search.
“The news is really starting to scare people away,” she said.
Larry Prather, who manages an RV resort in Forest Lakes, said three families staying there have been keeping a lookout, especially for smoke.
“People definitely started to lock doors,” he said.
Jon Paxton, a spokesman for the Coconino County Sheriff’s office, said several dozen officers are patrolling the area and handing out wanted posters to local businesses with a photo of a man they think may be responsible.
Forest Lakes Fire District officials said law enforcement also used helicopters and night vision equipment to search.
Paxton said people have reported seeing a man matching the suspect’s description in communities 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) west and 45 miles (72.4 kilometers) east of Forest Lakes. He said officers look into all tips, but take them with a grain of salt.
Paxton said the suspect, if caught, could face charges for shooting at the officer but it was unclear if the man could face additional charges for setting the fires.
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