An Apple Valley man who started a ranch fire that quickly grew out of control and devastated 30 homes in the Oakhurst area two years ago plead guilty to a felony charge late last month, and will pay restitution estimated at several million dollars as part of his sentence.
Oscar Bustillos, 50, was employed at a ranch in the area of Courtney Lane off of Crane Valley Road Sept. 14, 2014, when the smell of a dead deer in a barn overwhelmed him.
Attempting to eliminate the smell, Bustillos pulled the carcass out of the barn and set it on fire, but the flames flickered onto tall surrounding grass and rapidly turned into a path of destructive horror as it charged towards a ravine in Bass Lake Heights.
In court hearings April 22 and 24 this year, Bustillos plead guilty to a felony charge of California Penal Code 452 (b), unlawfully causing a fire that burns an inhabited structure or property.
Bustillos was sentenced to three years of felony probation and 200 hours of community service, as well as owing an as-yet undetermined amount of restitution to the state and victims of the blaze.
District Attorney David Linn said the current estimated amount Bustillos will owe is around $6 million, though the Madera County Probation Department is in the process of contacting victims to finalize an exact total.
Because it’s unlikely Bustillos will be able to pay that amount, Linn said it’s possible his wages may be garnished for a significant length of time, dependent on what the probation department and court decide.
“Our goal was to ensure (Bustillos) was convicted of a felony for starting this terrible fire, and that the possibility of restitution be kept open so victims can hopefully receive just compensation for their damages,” Linn said.
Linn said although the property owner who Bustillos worked for had no criminal liability in the case, civil liability could be a possibility.
Linn, who has overseen many of the county’s arson cases since taking office in January 2015, was excluded from the trial as he was evacuated during the Courtney Fire.
Since the inferno, many families have returned to Bass Lake Heights as they rebuild their homes, and their lives.
Click this link for a story about their return: http://www.sierrastar.com/2015/04/22/72718/new-beginnings.html.
Public defenders often said in court that Bustillos didn’t intend to start the Courtney Fire, and his actions were an accident.