Former Sonoma State University criminal justice Professor Gary Stephen Maynard was indicted on five counts of arson by a federal Grand Jury at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento on Thursday over allegedly starting four wildfires in Northern California during the summer.
According to the Department of Justice, Maynard set four fires around the multi-county Dixie Fire in Northern California in July and August. Specifically, Maynard is being accused of setting the Cascade fire alight on July 20th, the Everitt Fire on July 21st, and both the Ranch and Conrad Fires on August 7th.
Authorities first began to look at Maynard, a resident of San Jose, shortly after the Cascade Fire started when U.S. Forest Service investigators found him near the start of the blaze with his stuck black Kia Soul. After the Everitt fire started the next day on Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County, tire tracks were found away from the epicenter of the fire closely matching the tires from his Kia. A tracking device was installed on his car on August 3rd by suspicious authorities, which led them to Maynard traveling to the areas both August 7th fires started in the Lassen National Forest.
All four fires had threatened to encircle firefighters battling the Dixie Fire, forcing authorities to pull off fire fighters from Dixie to the four other fires, costing them valuable resources at a critical time. The Dixie Fire would later become the largest wildfire of the 2021 season, scorching 1,505 square miles – larger than the state of Rhode Island – as well as becoming the second largest wildfire of all-time in the state, causing the death of a firefighter, and destroying over 1,000 buildings. The blaze also caused the U.S. Forest Service to shut down all National Forests in the state for close to a month.
“This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, which received assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, CalFire, the California Highway Patrol, and the Lassen County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael D. Anderson is prosecuting the case,” the DOJ said in a statement on Thursday. “If convicted, Maynard faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count of arson. Arson to federal property carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.”
5 counts of arson against Maynard
While Maynard denies starting the fires, the U.S. Forest Service is adamant that he was in the midst of an arson spree. Experts explained to the Globe on Friday that the added danger to firefighters could force a harsher punishment if Maynard is found guilty.
“If he’s found guilty on the the five counts of arson, he’s already serving 5 years at the very minimum due to a a mandatory minimum for arson on federal property,” said independent fire investigator Marco Gomez to the Globe. “But the very fact that the blazes were deliberate and near firefighters there means that he was drawing them away from the much larger Dixie Fire and may have been trying to hurt him.
“Again, innocent until proven guilty, but if it is proved, the fact that the fires could have hurt or even killed them is not going to work in his favor.”
As of Friday, Maynard is being held at the Sacramento Main Jail without bail. He is expected to appear in court soon.
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