Vigilance Can Trump Stupidity

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Like a moth to a flame, some people just seem to attract trouble.

Right on cue, on the first anniversary of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, Valinda Jo Elliott is back.

Relax.

The flip-flop-clad woman who started the Chediski Fire when she got lost in the Arizona outback is not back in the Rim country with her trusty Bic. She's back in the news.

Last week, Elliott was sentenced to a 60-day jail term for drunken driving by the Tolleson Justice Court. Elliott clocked in at a blood-alcohol level of .177, good enough to earn her an extreme DUI when she was pulled over on Dec. 8.

While she was in court, the White-Mountain Apache Tribe took the opportunity to slap Elliott with a civil action in connection with last year's conflagration -- at 469,000 acres, the largest in Arizona history. The action accuses Elliott of several indiscretions in connection with the inferno, including leaving an unattended fire.

Elliott faces just $4,000 in fines if the charges stand up, but she could also be held responsible for damages. After it appeared she would go scot-free, it's nice to know that justice may yet prevail.

Of course Elliott, who typically refused to talk to reporters, is free without bail pending appeal to Superior Court. That means it's not beyond the realm of possibility that she could grab her cigarettes and Bic, don a sporty new pair of flip-flops and head for the Rim country to escape all kinds of heat down in the Valley.

But Elliott isn't the only one capable of starting a fire in the tinder-dry conditions present this holiday weekend. Reports have surfaced that firecrackers and other illegal fireworks have made an early appearance in the Rim country.

According to Gary Roberts, Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer, 80 to 90 percent of all forest fires are caused by acts of human carelessness and outright stupidity.

It is incumbent on all of us to make sure this holiday weekend doesn't turn into another tragedy of the scope of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.

Be extremely careful in and around the forest, especially if you smoke.

Leave the fireworks in the hands of the experts who are authorized to use them under tightly controlled circumstances.

And perhaps most important, we all need to keep a vigilant watch over our forested community.

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