Speed Reads

'arson-setting spree'

California man arrested, charged with setting at least 1 wildfire in Northern California hot zone

Federal prosecutors have charged a California man with willfully starting the Ranch fire in Northern California and linked him to at least six other fires in the Lassen and Shasta-Trinity National Forests over the past month. The suspect, Gary Stephen Maynard, has denied setting fires. The Ranch fire and several of the other blazes he is suspected of starting are near where the massive Dixie fire originated on July 13. Maynard, 47, was arrested Saturday in a restricted area near the scene of the Conard fire. The Conard and Ranch fires both started Aug. 7, three miles apart. 

U.S. Forest Service investigators had been tracking Maynard since encountering his Kia Soul, stuck on a large rock, right near where the Cascade fire started on July 20, according to documents filed in federal court this week. Police attached a tracker to his Kia during an Aug. 3 traffic stop, and it placed him near Ranch and Conard fires, plus the Moon fire, which ignited Aug. 5. Federal investigators say his car's tire tracks and other information placed him near the Bradley and Everitt fires, which began July 11 and July 21, respectively.  

"It appeared that Maynard was in the midst of an arson-setting spree," the federal affidavit says. Most of the fires linked to Maynard were contained quickly or failed to spread, but the Bradley fire burned more than 300 acres. "But for the dedication and efforts of U.S. Forest Service investigators working around the clock to track Maynard, those fires would not have been discovered in their infancy," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anderson. He has not been charged with starting any of the other fires. 

Maynard identified himself as a college professor. Sonoma State University said he had worked as a part-time lecturer in criminology and criminal justice studies last fall, and wasn't rehired in the spring. Santa Clara University said he worked as an adjunct faculty member in the sociology department from September 2019 to December 2020. The San Jose Police Department said one of Maynard's Santa Clara colleagues had raised concerns about his mental wellbeing in October 2020.