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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 23:14 GMT 00:14 UK
Murder charge after fire plane crash
Plane wreckage
The planes crashed above woodland near Hopland
A California man who allegedly started a campfire that turned into a forest blaze has been charged with second-degree murder, after two firefighting planes crashed.

We will prosecute everybody involved as much as I can prosecute them for as many things as I can charge them with

Mendocino DA Norman Vroman
Both pilots died when their S-2 tanker planes came down over northern California on Monday evening.

Frank Brady, 50, of Redwood City, California, was arrested and jailed, and has now been charged with murder by Mendocino County Sheriff's Department.

A second man, Richard Mortensen, 43, has also been detained, and may also be charged.

Frank Brady
Frank Brady: Facing 15 years in prison if convicted
Police are investigating whether the two men were operating an illegal drugs laboratory at the place where the fire flared out of control.

"We will prosecute everybody involved as much as I can prosecute them for as many things as I can charge them with," said Mendocino County District Attorney Norman Vroman.

Second-degree murder carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years on conviction.

Tail touch?

Larry Groff, 55, and Lars Stratte, 45, were each flying alone in Korean War-era aircraft, dumping fuel retardant on the 250-acre brush fire near Hopland, 160km (100 miles) north of San Francisco.

S-2 plane
The S-2 is used by the California Department of Fire
"They were crossing paths with each other," a witness, Jeff Anderson, told KRON-TV in San Francisco. "It looked like one might have knocked the tail off the other one."

Six other planes and one helicopter involved in fighting the forest fire were grounded after the accident, while authorities tried to determine the cause of the crash.

Los Angeles fire

Further south, in the hills north of Los Angeles, firefighters managed to put out a fire caused by arson, which had flared out of control and spread over 1,500 acres.

No one was hurt in the fire, but residents were encouraged to evacuate as the flames shot towards the doorsteps of several luxury homes.

"You never think this is going to happen, and so I came home after work and... I realized that those hills are gone," Phil Scorza, whose home was destroyed, told KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, about 900 firefighters continued to battle a 23,500-acre wildfire between Livingston and Yellowstone National Park.

Wildfires are also burning in Nevada, Washington and Idaho.

See also:

15 Aug 01 | Americas
In pictures: US forest fires
16 Aug 01 | Americas
Wildfires rage across western US
30 Jul 01 | Americas
Wyoming forest fire under control
08 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Flourishing forests need fires
11 Jul 00 | Europe
Fighting forest fires
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