MADERA COUNTY – The man accused of starting the Courtney Fire that destroyed some 30 homes along Road 426 in the Bass Lake Annex in September 2014 appeared in Madera County Superior Court today.
Oscar Bustillos, of Apple Valley, was arrested shortly after Cal Fire asked for a warrant on Nov. 17, and was arraigned on Nov. 25.
Bustillos is charged with one felony count of “unlawfully causing a fire that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn.” He is also charged with two misdemeanor counts of carelessly or negligently starting a fire. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
The defendant was reportedly attempting to burn a deer carcass when the surrounding brush caught fire, igniting the 320-acre blaze that destroyed dozens of homes, outbuildings and vehicles, and caused the evacuation of entire neighborhoods along Road 426 and the south shore of Bass Lake.
The fire started on Sept. 13, and residents were displaced for more than four days as crews battled to control the blaze, secure containment lines and remove hazard trees.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Sally Moreno is prosecuting the case, and explains the reason why only one felony count is being charged.
“There were 33 residences that were damaged or destroyed, based on the reports we received, but because it was one fire, we’re limited to one felonious count, all based on that one fire,” says Moreno.
Bustillos posted his $10,000 bail and is scheduled to be back in court in Department 1 on February 20 for a preliminary hearing. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.