A camper has been acquitted of criminal negligence for accidentally igniting a 9,000-acre forest fire in Hells Canyon by burning his used toilet paper.

U.S. Magistrate Mikel Williams found Philip J. Arnold not guilty last week in connection with the Aug. 20, 1988, blaze in the Payette National Forest, which took more than two weeks to control.Williams noted that campfires were not banned at the time, and ruled that Arnold, of Santa Barbara, Calif., was not aware of the substantial risk of fire during that drought-plagued summer. In addition, he said, the Forest Service's evidence did not prove Arnold committed a criminally reckless or negligent act.

Part of Arnold's defense was based on the fact that camping books and even some Forest Service maps instruct campers to burn their toilet paper after use.

However, Payette National Forest Supervisor Sonny LaSalle said, "The only safe way to deal with human waste is to bury it." He said toilet paper will decompose if it is put in a 6-inch-deep hole and covered with dirt.