Former College Professor Charged in 'Arson-Setting Spree' That Led to Some of California's Wildfires: Report

Gary Maynard, 47, has been charged in connection to starting a series of fires around Northern California, police say.
Gary Maynard, 47, has been charged in connection to starting a series of fires around Northern California, police say.(Getty/Handout)

Gary Maynard, 47, taught at Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University as recently as fall 2020. He is currently being held without bail at the Sacramento County Main Jail.

A former professor at Santa Clara University and Somona State University is accused of starting a series of fires around a remote forest in Northern California, near where the massive Dixie Fire is continuing to devastate parts of the state. Gary Maynard, who once taught criminal justice, is facing charges in connection with “an arson-setting spree,” according to an affidavit filed by authorities.

Maynard, 47, is currently in custody at the Sacramento County Main Jail, where a judge ordered he be held without bail. “There are simply no conditions that could be fashioned that could ensure the safety of the public with respect to this defendant,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anderson said during Maynard’s appearance in federal court Tuesday, Sacramento Bee reported.

Authorities with the U.S. Forest Service said they first encountered Maynard on July 20, when the Cascade Fire broke out, eventually destroying about 100 to 200 acres of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. He and his car were spotted in the area, and witnesses said he seemed “uncooperative and agitated,” according to the Sacramento Bee, citing court papers filed by federal authorities.

Early the following day, at around 2:50 a.m., another fire broke out on Mount Shasta and tire marks similar to the ones Maynard left behind at the previous scene were found nearby, according to court papers.

Authorities began monitoring his movements by tracking his electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card and store video surveillance, and they eventually obtained a warrant to place a vehicle tracker on his car, the Sacramento Bee reported, citing court papers.

They eventually found that Maynard had been nearby at the outbreak of multiple different wildfires, according to court papers.

At the time of his arrest, Maynard was living out of his car, court records said.

Sonoma State University said Maynard is no longer with the school, but said he taught as a part-time lecturer in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice as recently as fall 2020, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Santa Clara University told the Sacramento Bee Maynard was employed as an adjunct faculty member in the sociology department between September 2019 and December 2020.

According to CBS Sacramento, Maynard denied the charges vehemently upon arrest, kicking at the door of his jail cell, screaming, "I told those f****** I didn’t start any of those fires!”

While Maynard is not accused of starting the Dixie Fire, investigators said in a court document that “he entered the evacuation zone and began setting fires behind the first responders fighting the Dixie fire … enlarging the Dixie fire and threatening more lives and properties,” CBS News reported.

The Dixie Fire is now being hailed as California’s largest single wildfire in recorded history and covers approximately 500,000 acres – or 780 square miles – as of Wednesday. The fire is only 30% contained.

Environmentalists are calling the severity of wildfires across the United States, and that of those in Russia and Greece, a clear symptom of climate change.

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