A California criminal justice professor is accused of intentionally setting an arson wildfire in Northern California next to the state’s massive Dixie Fire.
Federal investigators allege that “Gary Maynard, age 47, set a series of fires in Lassen National Forest and Shasta Trinity National Forest, an area in rural Northern California near where the Dixie Fire, the second-largest in state history, still burns,” The Daily Beast reported. “California Forestry Department agents arrested him Saturday. He is charged with intentionally setting fire to public land and is being held without bail in the Sacramento County Main Jail.”
Maynard reportedly identified himself as a professor when a U.S. Forest Service investigator, who was responding to the wildfire, approached Maynard at the scene.
Sonoma State University confirmed to the SF Gate that Maynard was a part-time lecturer in the department of criminology and criminal justice in fall 2020. He currently doesn’t have an appointment with the university, the school said. The Sonoma State website says his areas of expertise are criminal justice, social science research methods, cults and deviant behavior.
Prosecutors used a variety of techniques during the course of their investigation and even placed a tracker on Maynard’s car. Tyler Bolen, U.S. Forest Service Special Agent, wrote in court documents that evidence obtained by investigators suggests that Maynard “appeared” to be “in the midst of an arson-setting spree.”
“Over the course of the last several weeks, Maynard has set a series of fires in the vicinity of the Lassen National Forest and Shasta Trinity National Forest,” assistant U.S. attorney Michael Anderson told Judge Kendall J. Newman. “The area in which Maynard chose to set his fires is near the ongoing Dixie fire, a fire which is still not contained despite the deployment and efforts of over 5,000 personnel.”
Officials believe that mental health issues might have played a role in the alleged arson wildfires.
Bolen stated in court documents:
During the course of this investigation, I consulted with the San Jose Police Department’s dispatch services who advised me that in October of 2020, a concerned citizen had contacted the San Jose Police Department with concerns about their colleague, Maynard who worked as a professor at Santa Clara University. This concerned citizen told officers that Maynard had told her he was suffering from anxiety, depression, split personality, and that he wanted to kill himself. This concerned citizen said that Maynard had moved out and was possibly living somewhere out of his vehicle.
The fires that Maynard is accused of setting are close to the state’s Dixie Fire, which is barely over a quarter contained and has already destroyed a staggering 766 square miles of land, including nearly 550 homes.
Separate court documents, obtained by CBS 13 Sacramento, outline the severity of the alleged crimes:
[Maynard] entered the evacuation zone and began setting fires behind the first responders fighting the Dixie fire. In addition to the danger of enlarging the Dixie fire and threatening more lives and property, this increased the danger to the first responders. Maynard’s fires were placed in the perfect position to increase the risk of firefighters being trapped between fires. But for the dedication and efforts of U.S. Forest Service investigators working around the clock to track Maynard, those fires would not have been discovered in their infancy.