Amid a bid of arson incidents crossed Northern California this year, a criminology prof was charged with mounting a spot of the Sierra Nevada wood ablaze.
Oct. 8, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET
LASSEN NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. — He drove retired of the Lumberjacks edifice parking batch connected a Tuesday successful August, up Main Street, past the occurrence presumption and the weapon shop. Then, Gary Maynard near the tiny metropolis of Susanville successful the northeastern country of California and headed up a steep road into the Sierra Nevada, where, prosecutors say, helium acceptable the wood ablaze.
Mr. Maynard, a criminology prof who specializes successful deviancy, present sits successful a Sacramento jailhouse awaiting a hearing. The transgression expert, investigators say, became a transgression himself.
Arson, a transgression whose perpetrators person included lawyers, dentists, millionaires and residents of stateless encampments, has for decades been a interest successful California, wherever astir 10 percent of wildfires each twelvemonth are acceptable connected purpose, according to Cal Fire, the state’s largest occurrence agency.
With megafires successful caller years plaguing California, wherever forests and scrublands stay highly desiccated by drought and different effects of clime change, the arsonist’s lucifer is an particularly potent threat. And the transgression is connected the rise: Last twelvemonth the fig of wildland arson fires successful California roseate by 6 percent, from 301 to 320.
Over the past 2 months, 3 radical suspected of arson successful Northern California person been considered liable for fires that burned thousands of acres and destroyed much than 200 homes and businesses. The fires that Mr. Maynard is accused of mounting were enactment retired earlier they could destruct immoderate buildings.
“The wildland arsonist is the astir unsafe transgression successful the world,” said Ed Nordskog, who has spent a vocation interrogating arsonists successful California arsenic an researcher successful Los Angeles. “They tin pain a full municipality down successful an hour.”
In precocious September, the Fawn fire, which investigators accidental was acceptable by Alexandra Souverneva, a yoga teacher from Silicon Valley and chemistry and biology postgraduate of the California Institute of Technology, injured 3 radical and burned 185 structures northbound of Redding.
An authoritative with Cal Fire said that determination was “overwhelming evidence” Ms. Souverneva intentionally lit the occurrence and that she mightiness person been liable for a vegetation occurrence the time earlier successful the aforesaid area, according to tribunal documents. Upon her arrest, the documents said, Ms. Souverneva said she had attempted to boil h2o she feared mightiness beryllium tainted with carnivore urine.
Earlier that month, the Hopkins fire, which prosecutors accidental was acceptable by a 20-year-old section resident, burned astir 250 acres and destroyed 46 structures successful Mendocino County, 3 hours northbound of San Francisco. The man, Devin Lamar Johnson, was connected probation and present faces 3 charges of arson.
Although immoderate wildfires successful California are ignited by lightning, a immense bulk person nonnatural causes — sparks from electrical equipment, the vigor of a tract mower motor or, successful the lawsuit of 1 of the state’s largest fires, a man hammering a involvement into the ground.
Arson is simply a peculiarly challenging occupation due to the fact that it is truthful hard to prevent. Convicted arsonists successful California indispensable registry with a statewide database that presently lists 5,318 names, according to Gianni Muschetto, main of the instrumentality enforcement programme astatine Cal Fire.
Some arson experts judge that the coronavirus pandemic has fixed emergence to an summation successful arson activity, on with higher rates of homicide, aggravated battle and car thefts.
In California, the fig of arson arrests jumped during the pandemic: 120 arson arrests were reported by Cal Fire successful 2020 compared with 70 the twelvemonth before. Arson offenses had been declining nationwide for the past fewer decades, but F.B.I. numbers show astir 13 arson offenses per 100,000 radical successful 2020, astir a 20 percent summation from the erstwhile year.
Arrests could besides beryllium up, experts say, due to the fact that of accrued vigilance by residents astatine a clip of wide fearfulness of wildfires and the harm they person caused.
Mr. Nordskog, who has interviewed much than 300 arsonists successful his career, says it is simply a transgression that crosses contention and sex lines. The Hollywood portrayal of serial arsonists excited by occurrence and doing it for a thrill applies to a tiny subset of arsonists, helium said. But much communal are radical frustrated with their jobs oregon household beingness oregon suffering intelligence wellness crises. “Most arsonists are conscionable aggravated people,” helium said.
The lawsuit of Mr. Maynard, the criminology professor, appears to amusement some the stresses of the pandemic, links to intelligence unwellness and the arduous enactment of stopping arsonists earlier they origin irreparable harm. Investigators tracked Mr. Maynard’s movements utilizing his nutrient stamp transactions, telephone records and a instrumentality they attached to his car successful the Lumberjacks parking lot.
An itinerant prof who taught astatine Santa Clara, Chapman and Sonoma State Universities, among others, Mr. Maynard had a peculiar fascination with the 1978 Jonestown massacre successful Guyana.
In interviews, erstwhile students described Mr. Maynard arsenic anxious, troubled and, astatine times, inappropriate. One said helium often taught his classes during the pandemic via Zoom from a darkened bedroom, revealing details astir an ailing father, a suit against his erstwhile landlord and his battles with his intelligence health.
Last year, his beingness appearing to unravel further, Mr. Maynard lived successful his car, according to tribunal documents. As helium traversed Northern California, helium sent messages to students that included rantings, arsenic good arsenic links to YouTube videos — meandering footage of trees and mountains — successful which helium ruminated connected the authorities of the world. He besides appeared fascinated by arson.
Heather Williams, a national nationalist defender who is representing Mr. Maynard, said her squad was investigating Mr. Maynard’s employment history, but she provided nary different details astir his idiosyncratic beingness oregon a imaginable involvement successful fire. “We cannot ethically reply your questions astatine this time,” she wrote by email.
“Something was off,” said a erstwhile student, Vamsita Venna, who took 2 of Mr. Maynard’s classes astatine Santa Clara University, wherever helium was an adjunct module subordinate from September 2019 to December 2020.
Eventually, Ms. Venna and others raised concerns with professors; an worker astatine the assemblage notified the police. Mr. Maynard’s declaration was not renewed, the schoolhouse said.
What appears wide is that successful the last months of Mr. Maynard’s teaching career, the bound betwixt his world probe and idiosyncratic fascinations with occurrence began to blur.
According to tribunal documents, officials archetypal came crossed Mr. Maynard successful July erstwhile responding to a wildfire connected the slopes of Mt. Shasta, astir an hr southbound of the Oregon border. After a upland biker called to study the fire, an researcher with the U.S. Forest Service recovered Mr. Maynard connected a rutted roadworthy trying to extricate his car, which had gotten stuck connected a boulder.
Agents photographed the car and took enactment of the patterns of its tyre tracks. When the aforesaid tracks were recovered adjacent a 2nd occurrence that ignited little than 24 hours later, the pb researcher obtained a warrant to way Mr. Maynard’s phone. Verizon sent coordinates for the phone’s determination each 15 minutes to agents, who intimately tracked his movements.
When Mr. Maynard traveled to Susanville, they placed the tracker connected his car.
On Aug. 3, agents followed Mr. Maynard’s movements into the hills. The aerial was heavy with fume from the Dixie fire, a megafire burning respective twelve miles distant that experts judge started from electrical equipment.
Mr. Maynard drove into a labyrinth of rutted ungraded logging roads successful the Lassen National Forest and acceptable 3 further fires, investigators say. After the 3rd occurrence helium was arrested.
Investigators charged Mr. Maynard with mounting 1 fire, and accidental helium is rather apt linked with respective others successful July and August, each of which were caught earlier they could origin the devastation that different wildfires person successful caller years. He has pleaded not guilty.
The U.S. territory lawyer who brought the charges against him argued that Mr. Maynard was “particularly dangerous, adjacent among arsonists.”
“Where Maynard went, fires started,” Phillip Talbert, the territory attorney, said successful a tribunal filing. “Not conscionable once, but implicit and implicit again.”