USA — The former commander of an elite wildland firefighting team whoadmitted setting two forest fires was sentenced Monday to two years in federalprison.
Van Bateman, who pleaded guilty in October to setting the small fires in theCoconino National Forest, had faced up to five years in prison for settingtimber on fire without authorization.
Besides the prison term, U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt fined Bateman$5,000 and ordered him to pay $10,000 in restitution to the government. He wasordered to surrender within 45 days to begin serving his sentence.
Arson and two other charges were dropped under a plea agreement.
Bateman told the judge that he accepted responsibility for not followingprocedures for a prescribed burn. He said there was no malicious intent,reiterating that he lit the fires only to protect the forest and as part of hisjob.
A statement from the U.S. attorney’s office called the actions “recklessand dangerous” and said the facts do not support statements by Bateman thatsuch actions were common.
One fire Bateman set burned an area the size of a small patio; the othercharred about 21 acres.
Bateman, 57, spent more than three decades as a wildland firefighter and firemanager. He was working as fire management officer for the Mogollon RangerDistrict when he set the fires, and he was dismissed from that job.
He earlier headed one of the nation’s top wildfire incident management teams.He and his team also assisted in recovery operations in New York City after theSept. 11 attacks.