A former professor specializing in cults has been arrested after he went on an “arson-setting spree” in a forest near California’s record-setting Dixie Fire, authorities said.
Gary Stephen Maynard, 47, who previously taught at Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, was charged with intentionally setting the Ranch Fire in Lassen County, the Sacramento Bee reported.
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“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 US Attorney Michael Anderson wrote in a detention memo, the newspaper reported.
“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.”
Maynard came onto authorities’ radar on July 20 after the Cascade Fire began on the western slopes of Mount Shasta.
Authorities responding to the scene found Maynard underneath a black Kia Soul with its front wheels stuck in a ditch as well as its undercarriage on top of a boulder.
Maynard denied any knowledge of the fire and was at times “uncooperative and agitated,” according to court filings.
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A second fire was reported the next day on Mount Shasta, and investigators later discovered tire tracks similar to those from the Kia, court papers said.
Authorities began tracking Maynard’s movements and eventually obtained a warrant to place a tracking device on his car.
The device was able to pin him to the areas where the Ranch Fire and Conard Fire erupted Saturday in the Lassen National Forest.
“It appeared that Maynard was in the midst of an arson-setting spree,” court papers said.
He was arrested Saturday in an area under emergency closure orders due to the Dixie Fire, which has grown to become the second-largest in state history.
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“He entered the evacuation zone and began setting fires behind the first responders fighting the Dixie Fire,” Anderson wrote. “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 no longer is employed at either Santa Clara University or Sonoma State University, where he was listed as being a lecturer in criminal justice studies specializing in criminal justice, cults and deviant behavior, the Sacramento Bee reported.
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He appeared Wednesday in federal court, where he was ordered held without bond until his next hearing Aug. 24, the newspaper reported.
If convicted of the charge related to the Ranch Fire, he could face up to five years in prison.
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