The man whose burning toilet paper sparked a sizeable wildfire during one of Mesa County's driest years on record was sentenced to 80 hours of useful public service as part of a plea agreement.
Mike "Marlow" Mewborn was cited earlier this year for his involvement in the April 19 Skipper Island Fire, which torched more than 200 acres along the Colorado River west of Fruita.
Mewborn, who quickly came forward and claimed responsibility, told The Daily Sentinel he had been camping on the southeast corner of Skipper Island along with two friends who hoped to launch a low-impact community, close to nature, but not far from civilization.
Mewborn said he accidentally started the fire while trying to destroy his used toilet paper by burning it. The lit paper quickly caught the tinder-dry island on fire and grew beyond his control.
Mewborn pleaded guilty on Sept. 21 to a single count each of damaging Colorado Parks and Wildlife property and setting fire to woods or a prairie, as well as three counts of improper use of parks and wildlife property, according to prosecutor Robert Brasher.
He was sentenced to 80 hours of useful public service.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Springer said Monday that her office consulted with agencies involved and considered Mewborn's cooperation and lack of criminal history when formulating the agreed-upon sentence.
Restitution may still be requested; Springer said Brasher is waiting for agencies involved to respond about what, if any, may be requested.
Mewborn reiterated on Monday that he is sorry for the trouble he caused and added that he is still appalled by how quickly the blaze grew out of his control.
"That was something I've done 1,000 times in the northern Rockies," Mewborn said, noting he has spent considerable time backpacking in the Yellowstone National Park area. "The thing that shocked me was how flammable … the forest floor was down here. I just wasn't prepared for that at all."
He said he has already begun his court-ordered useful public service, helping the city of Fruita with water line maintenance.
Springer said she would urge people using public lands to follow any recommended guidelines for disposing of trash or waste.
"Be appropriate, people," she said.