Butt Tossers Put Us All At Risk

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Valinda Jo Elliott is a name that will live forever in Rim country infamy.

The flip-flop-clad woman ignited the Chediski fire back in 2002 when she got lost hiking in the Arizona outback and started a signal fire with her Bic lighter. It eventually merged with the Rodeo fire to create -- at 469,000 acres -- the largest forest fire in Arizona history.

Few would rank Elliott very high on the evolutionary chain, especially after she showed absolutely no remorse and even tried to cash in on the inferno she caused by appearing on several television talk show appearances.

However misguided Elliot might have been, she was at least attempting, in her mind, to save her life.

The smokers who mindlessly risk our lives and homes by carelessly tossing cigarettes from their cars are worse.

Not content to destroy their own health, they endanger the rest of us.

According to Dan Smith, law enforcement officer for the Tonto National Forest, tossing lit cigarettes from vehicles is against the law -- all year-round.

"It's illegal on two counts," he said. "Number one, you're throwing an ignited substance, which could cause a fire. Number two, it's litter."

Almost as dangerous is the practice of flicking ashes out the window or, even worse, holding a cigarette out the window while driving.

"The burning cherry on the end of a cigarette can easily flake off and land in some dry grass," Smith said.

A woman was recently observed dangling a lit cigarette out the window -- possibly to avoid exposing the young child in her car to secondhand smoke -- as she drove down Houston Mesa Road.

That's illegal too, according to Smith -- especially when fire restrictions are in effect.

"Our fire restrictions state that you are to smoke in a cleared area or within an enclosed vehicle," he said. "Hanging a cigarette out the window when you're driving is not within an enclosed vehicle."

Chances are, this is falling on blind eyes. The people who do such mindless acts probably know better, but don't care. However, there is something you can do.

Be on the lookout for these transgressors, and when you see a cigarette tossed out of or dangled from a car window -- call the police and turn them in. Or call 911 if it looks urgent. Note the location, get a license number and the make and model of the vehicle, and use your cell phone to make the call.

Emergency dispatchers say throwing flammables in an area under strict fire restrictions constitutes an emergency during the fire season.

But turning litterbugs in isn't just to bring the culprits to justice.

"The other reason we want to know where they threw the cigarette out," Smith said, "is that we'll send a fire truck to make sure a fire didn't start."

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.

Smokey Bear himself put it best: "Only you can prevent forest fires."

Be vigilant and turn those firebugs in.

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