The Arizona Republic
Jul. 3, 2003
A Tonto Basin rancher who used a shotgun to defend his water supply from a firefighting helicopter last month now faces criminal charges.
Federal prosecutors say Clarence Conway, 59, blasted a collection bucket beneath the chopper as it hovered over his stock pond dipping for water to battle the "Picture" fire near Punkin Center.
Conway was arrested shortly after the June 30 incident, then released. He was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury on a single count of interfering with the performance of federal officials or contractors. If convicted, he could face up to a year in prison.
The U.S. District Court case is likely to pit the water rights of a property owner against the needs of federal authorities during an emergency.
Clark Derrick, a Phoenix attorney assisting Conway's family, said the rancher had filed a claim with the U.S. Forest Service after firefighting aircraft used more than $2,000 worth of his water to battle a blaze last year. Derrick said the government never paid that claim, and Conway warned the Forest Service not to take more water from Greenback Ranch because he was concerned about the welfare of his cattle.
Michael Johns, an assistant U.S. attorney, said two shots were fired and investigators later found pellets embedded in the water-collection bucket. He noted that the helicopter was not hit. Conway was not charged with any firearms-related offenses.
The Picture fire, which began around June 20, burned more than 12,500 acres of Tonto National Forest before it was contained 10 days later.
I would like to serve on his Jury. I have reasonable boubt.
What a tough case. I normally have a problem with just the idea of interfearing with firefighting efforts. I firmly believe a man has to protect his personal interests.
Sounds open and shut to me. Sort of like forcefully stopping a firecrew from crossing your property with their hose to fight your next door neighbor's fire.
He should've sued the state for the cost of his lost water. Might have had better luck in that trial than in this one.
But ya' never know - this is Arizona. Yee-haw!
What sucks is that the feds throw money around at these fires like it's nothing. I don't see why they can't or won't pay his past claims for lost water.
I have been to many fed fires and they hand out equipment like there is no tomorrow. Costs run into the millions on large fires.
By comparison $2,000.00 for water is nothing.
How much water is $2,000 worth? Is this guy wanting $2 a gallon? $1 a gallon? Perhaps that is part of the problem.
Next, He's worried about protecting his personal property. If there is a wildfire so close to his land that they are scooping water from it, how far away is that fire? Isn't it also in his interest not to have that wildfire in the area? Smoke and fear of the fire could also effect his cattle. Not to mention what happens if the fire makes it to his property.
Yer right, $2000.00 buys a lot of water, but depending on how remote the property is ya' gotta' factor in transportation costs.
He may be gouging or he may be able to prove his losses with receipts. Who knows?
I'm a firefighter, I am not condoning his actions. Hell if he shot in my general direction while I was fighting a fire (BTW this has happened to me) I'd want him arrested. And I'd be more than happy to go to court to send him to jail.
I just think that he should be compensated for his lost property (the water) at a fair rate. He might have paid to fill the pond, maybe had to excavate it. Now he's gotta' refill it to keep his cattle secure.
Feds throw money away at all of these federally managed fires. If the pond was not there, they would have to look elsewhere.
Off to jail with ya.
Shoot at a helicopter, you go to jail. Sue the Forestry Department if you want money back. Don't those buckets take like 5000 gallons a scoop?
I have no sympathy for this guy. It's like if I shot at some robber's car who took off with my VCR. Plus the fire department had a pretty good and easily known reason for taking it.
So uh, you're standing under this hovering helicopter shooting at it with a shotgun, what happens if it crashes? Dumb ass.
Both parties could of handled it much better. Instead of paying a $$$ sum for the water, simply send a water tanker out to replace the used water after the event. Firefighters usually have a few of those don't they?
A tank of gas to haul it and a driver during a slow day at the fire house. Cheaper than 2 grand, fire put out, water returned.
Common sense saves the day.