COCONINO COUNTY, Ariz. — An Arizona hiker who started a forest fire in 2018 after he got lost has been put on probation for one year by a federal judge and ordered to pay over $293,000 in restitution.

Philip A. Powers III was found guilty earlier this month of violating fire restrictions and burning timber without a permit for actions that resulted in a forest fire that burned several acres northwest of Sedona.

How does a hiker end up setting a canyon on fire?

On May 27, Powers set out to hike what he believed was the 17-mile Cabin Loop, which his guidebook described as an “Easy-to-Moderate” trail. In his pack, he carried a little less than a gallon of water, a handful of snacks, and a battery-powered cell phone charger. He planned to finish the trail in a single day. In addition to his phone, he also carried camping gear including: a stove fuel, sleeping bag, hammock, and a machete.

What his cellphone failed to tell him, however, is that he wasn’t on the Cabin Loop. He was on a significantly harder trek nearly 50 miles from where he should have been. To make the strenuous hike even more challenging, the temperature climbed until it was more than 100°F and bone-dry. Without cell service, maps couldn’t update and his outbound calls for help couldn’t be sent. After 18 grueling miles, an exhausted and dehydrated Powers attempted to sleep in an abandoned cabin on the trail. The distressed shack’s resident rattlesnakes kept Powers from sleeping. Luckily he avoided being bitten.

In the morning, Powers faced muscle cramps from dehydration and hunger. With his phone and charger both without power, he made the decision to signal for help. Powers lit several small fires, hoping they would catch the eye of a park ranger and lead to his rescue. Unfortunately, the second fire could not be controlled, and in the dry conditions, it quickly spread.

The 230-acre blaze, dubbed the Sycamore Fire, eventually took hotshots and air attack units more than a week to contain. As for the hiker, Powers was rescued. A Forest Service helicopter responding to the fire picked him up. Back in civilization, his hardship was far from over. He now owes nearly $300,000 in restitution and faces three years of probation after a federal district court convicted him of several crimes this week for the actions he took that day.

What Can We Learn?

It was ruled that Powers was unprepared for his hike and reckless in his actions. While it can be argued that the blaze was worth saving his life, there are steps he could have taken to avoid it altogether. Here are a few points that every hiker, hunter, or biker should pay attention to and learn from:

1. Navigation

Powers had a cellphone without pre-loaded maps. Had he downloaded the map ahead of time, he could have found his way out. Had he carried a paper map and a compass, he could have found his way out or never ended up in the wrong canyon in the first place.

2. Water

Most experts agree that one gallon of water per person a day is adequate. However, with the exertion and heat, Powers would have needed nearly three gallons of water to maintain proper hydration.

3. Food

Powers carried no food and ate items found in the abandoned shack to get nutrition. Carrying calorie-dense foods and an electrolyte supplement would have helped his cramps and exhaustion without adding much weight to his pack.

4. Not Telling Someone

Despite being on the wrong trail, had someone known that Powers wasn’t back by a certain time, it would have triggered at least a phone call to the rangers. Whenever possible, don’t leave the house without a plan; let someone know where you will be, when you should be back, and what type of transport you are taking.

We don’t mean to “armchair quarterback” the decisions that Powers made. We are using his mistakes and the subsequent ruling to highlight the importance of preparation on even “easy” hikes. Nature is a thrill to enjoy, but even a simple hike can become a nightmare with only a few missteps.