Crime Professor Allegedly Started Fires While Crews Worked to Put Out 'Dixie' Wildfire

A former criminal justice professor allegedly started four fires in California as firefighters were working to put out the Dixie wildfire.

Gary Stephen Maynard, a San Jose resident, was indicted on Thursday by a federal grand jury for engaging in an "arson spree" in July and August at the Shasta Trinity National Forest and the Lassen National Forest, according to a statement from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Federal prosecutors said that the fires Maynard allegedly set created a risk for firefighters as they tried to put out the raging Dixie Fire.

"Some of the fires Maynard set were new fires behind the firefighters fighting the Dixie Fire," the statement read.

The former professor was indicted on charges of arson to federal property and setting timber afire, said Acting U.S. Attorney Philip A. Talbert. A person charged with arson to federal property could face a minimum sentence of five years in prison, according to the DOJ.

If convicted, Maynard faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.

Crime Professor Allegedly Started Fires
Federal prosecutors said that the fires allegedly set by the former professor Gary Stephen Maynard has created a risk for firefighters as they tried to put out the Dixie Fire. Above, the Dixie Fire pushes through the Genesee Valley on August 21, 2021, in Genesee, California. Photo by Allison Dinner/Getty Images

The former professor has denied the allegations but remains in custody pending trial, CBS News reported.

The 47-year-old was a professor at Sonoma State University's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice in fall 2020. He also worked at Santa Clara University.

Investigators began inspecting the incidents on July 20. Before he was arrested, Maynard lived out of his car and traveled alone across Northern California, CBS Sacramento reported.

Court papers revealed that investigators were able to determine that Maynard was allegedly responsible for the fires by placing a tracking device on his car after they found the tire tracks at the scene of a fire that erupted near Mount Shasta.

Maynard reportedly traveled hundreds of miles to reach Lassen National Forest. "It appeared that Maynard was in the midst of an arson-setting spree," court papers said.

The Dixie Fire became the second-largest wildfire in California's history, spreading over several Sierra Nevada Counties as it destroyed over 1,300 buildings, including 728 homes and 139 commercial properties.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in September that the wildfire had grown to 928,741 acres as the blaze continued to grow for a duration of almost three months.

The August Complex fire burned 1.3 million acres in 2020 and was California's largest fire ever.