Criminal Justice Prof Set Blazes Across NorCal as Dixie Fire Raged: Cops

Sonoma State University/Getty

Sonoma State University/Getty

A criminal justice professor allegedly went on an arson spree in Northern California along the edges of the gargantuan Dixie Fire in late July.

Gary Maynard, age 47, set a series of fires in Lassen National Forest and Shasta Trinity National Forest, an area in rural Northern California near where the Dixie Fire, the second-largest in state history, still burns, federal prosecutors allege. California Forestry Department agents arrested him Saturday. He is charged with intentionally setting fire to public land and is being held without bail in the Sacramento County Main Jail.

“There are simply no conditions that could be fashioned that could ensure the safety of the public with respect to this defendant,” a federal prosecutor told the presiding judge Tuesday, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Police described Maynard’s temperament as highly flammable.

He has denied the allegations against him. According to court filings, he screamed at police in the Lassen County Jail, “I’m going to kill you, f—king pig! I told those f—kers I didn’t start any of those fires!”

Maynard appears to have taught at Sonoma State and Santa Clara Universities, according to faculty pages at both colleges, which list a Dr. Gary Maynard as a lecturer in criminology. His research covers “criminal justice, social science research methods, cults and deviant behavior.” Maynard’s Sonoma State faculty page describes him as having three master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in sociology.

A spokesperson for Sonoma State told the Bee was a part-time lecturer in the Criminal Justice Department filling in for a faculty member on leave.

“He was employed with Sonoma State University in Fall 2020, but did not have an appointment for Spring 2021. He taught two seminars in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies in Fall 2020,” she said.

Forest Service agents began looking into him on July 20, when an agent discovered him on Mount Shasta beneath his Kia Soul, the wheels of which were stuck in a ditch. The investigator had come to the area after mountain bikers reported a burgeoning fire. When the agent asked Maynard to come out from under the car and identify himself, the professor refused, only murmuring words the agent could not hear.

The agent eventually coaxed Maynard out from under the car and asked him about the fire, to which the professor said he did not know anything about any fires. Maynard asked for assistance towing his vehicle, and when the agent said he could not help, Maynard became “uncooperative and agitated” and crawled back underneath. A witness said they later saw Maynard brandishing a large knife.

Forest Service investigators said they found tracks similar to Maynard’s Kia near a fire that began overnight at a different location on Mount Shasta.

In the course of their investigation of Maynard, Forest Service investigators placed a tracker on the Kia. The tracker allegedly showed them that the academic traveled to the areas within Lassen National Forest where both the Ranch and Conard fires sparked Saturday night. Forest Service agents arrested Maynard later that day.

Court filings describe the professor’s behavior in blunt terms: “It appeared that Maynard was in the midst of an arson-setting spree.”

Maynard even allegedly attempted to trap firefighters between the fires he was setting and the boundaries of the Dixie Fire.

“He entered the evacuation zone and began setting fires behind the first responders fighting the Dixie Fire,” court filings read. “In addition to the danger of enlarging the Dixie fire and threatening more lives and property, this increased the danger to the first responders.”

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