By The Associated Press

A Mesa man has been charged with starting a wildfire that burned nearly 18,000 acres near Payson.

Federal prosecutors say 23-year-old Steven Craig Shiflet was target shooting with a group of friends at Sycamore Creek in May when he fired a shotgun loaded with a flame-shooting shell.

Shiflet told investigators that he pointed the gun at a soda box in a cleared area. Authorities say smoke appeared in the bushes shortly after, and the group couldn't extinguish the blaze.

Shiflet faces three charges, each which carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted.

The Sunflower Fire in the Tonto National Forest hasn't been active in weeks but remains 80 percent contained.