Federal and state
investigators arrested a 29-year-old man in connection with an
early September Tulare county forest fire.
Patrick Courtney is suspected of setting three separate fires
near Springville, CA. On September 6th, two men were killed when the
California Department of Forestry (CDF) OV-10A spotter plane they
were flying crashed while observing firefighting efforts for
those blazes from the air.
According to NTSB records, CDF Battalion Chief Rob Stone and
contract pilot George "Sandy" Willett died when their Bronco
slammed into 125 ft trees on the upslope of a box-like canyon.
Spotter aircraft play a vital role in fighting forest fires.
Crews on the ground are usually blinded by smoke and unable to see
terrain features that might help in fighting the fire. The spotter
aboard the aircraft is responsible for coordinating with ground
In announcing the arrest at a press conference last Friday,
Tulare Fire Unit Chief Ed Wristen said, "I commend the efforts of
the joint investigation team working diligently on the case. The
deaths of Chief Stone and Pilot Willett have been very difficult
for both of our agencies, the community and the families and
friends of our fallen firefighters. We are looking forward to
bringing this incident to a close."