A Joshua Tree man was arrested on Monday in connection with a fire that burned 150 acres south of Highway 62.
The blaze led to the closure of Highway 62 while crews contained it. Fire officials said they received reports of a man in his 40s seen leaving the area just after the fire started, according to the Desert Sun.
150 Acres Burn in Joshua Tree.
— SB County Fire (@SBCOUNTYFIRE) May 12, 2020
A vegetation fire near the Joshua Tree cemetery spread rapidly to more 155 acres Monday. Gusty winds caused problems for firefighters, as the fire increased in size from about 5 acres to 80 acres in 30 minutes. https://t.co/5c3ToVdGqK pic.twitter.com/AbUYDqSQYh
— The Desert Way (@desert_way) May 12, 2020
Michael Scott Smith, 43, was arrested at his home Monday night on suspicion of reckless burning causing a structure or forest fire.
The fire scorched an area that is part of the Mojava Desert Land Trust – a 623-acre parcel that has more than 10,000 Joshua trees and is important desert tortoise habitat.
Deputies told Z107.7 that Smith admitted he accidentally caused the fire by flicking a lit cigarette butt into the dry brush while hiking. He said that he tried to put out the fire, but was unsuccessful and fled.
Joshua Tree man arrested after throwing a lit cigarette butt into dry vegetation, sparking a 155 acre fire. https://t.co/utvNy2nwMX @MojaveDesertLT @JoshuaTreeNPS @Visit29Palms @SBCOUNTYFIRE @sbcountysheriff pic.twitter.com/NMtCDvPrKn
— Gary Daigneault (@GaryDaigneault1) May 12, 2020
“We are saddened to see a the destruction caused by the 155-acre fire on our Section 33 Gateway Property today,” Mojave Desert Land Trust said in a Facebook post. “This parcel is very special. It is well-loved by the community and helps maintain the town’s rural character by preserving open space, access to nature, and incredible views of our National Park. It also has very important wildlife and botanical resources, and it is part of the Joshua Tree North Wildlife Linkage corridor between the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms and Joshua Tree National Park.”