Arrests made at Walker Fire

On Monday at approximately 4:30 p.m, Mono County Sheriff’s Office deputies assigned to the Walker Fire Incident responded to the Incident Command Post in Lee Vining regarding two suspicious males claiming to be media representatives wanting to cover the fire.

Aaron Browne, age 44, of Meadow Vista, Calif., and Payton Ware, age 33, of Elk Grove, Calif., presented media credentials that aroused the suspicions of the incident management staff at the Walker Fire ICP.

Browne and Ware were dressed in new firefighter type gear, with a “Wildland Fire Fighter” hat on, with no designation of any identifying geographical area or crew name.

Browne was driving a white pickup truck full of fire and camping gear, including “line lunches” from several other fires.

Due to the suspicious media credentials, it was believed that Browne and Ware were trying to gain access to the fire ground.

People try to gain access to fire grounds for reasons such as to steal equipment and supplies or to attempt to contact California Department of Corrections inmate fire crews to smuggle contraband or weapons to the inmates.

A check was conducted on both Browne and Ware to verify their credentials. Their credentials were in fact falsified and both men had no media affiliation.

Browne was also verified as a convicted felon. Browne and Ware were detained on scene and their vehicle searched. A hard case belonging to Browne was found containing a canister of pepper spray. Ware was released at the scene.

Browne was arrested for a felon in possession of pepper spray. He was transported without incident to Bridgeport to the Mono County Jail.

All charges against Browne are pending with the Mono County District Attorney’s Office.

On Tuesday, the fire encouraged another response by the Mono County Sheriff’s Office assigned to the Walker Fire.

At approximately 12:45 p.m., deputies responded to the Sawmill Campground on Highway 120 (Tioga Pass) for a report of stolen campsite property.

Campers in the Sawmill Campground observed a transient hiker in their camp space. A locked bear box was broken into and camping supplies were missing. The campers detained the transient hiker and contact law enforcement for assistance.

The Mono County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of the California Highway Patrol, responded to the campsite. Mono County Sheriff’s Deputies hiked to the transient hiker’s campsite. With the consent of the hiker, they searched the site and located the stolen camping supplies. All property was returned to the campers. The campers didn’t want to prosecute and the transient hiker was released at the scene.

“This incident serves as a reminder to beware during the fire incident of looters,” Public Information Officer Jennifer Hansen said. “If you see any suspicious looking people or circumstances, please contact the Mono County Sheriff’s Office at (760) 932-7549 ext. 7 and report the incident.”


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