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California man accused of 'arson-setting spree' charged with starting blaze near Dixie Fire

Gary Stephen Maynard is suspected in several fires set near the Dixie Fire in California, but he is not accused in that massive wildland fire.
Image: Dixie Fire in California
A firefighter works as more structures are burned by the Dixie Fire near Greenville, Calif., on Monday.David Swanson / Reuters

A California man has been charged with setting a fire last week not far from where a massive wildfire is raging in the northern part of the state, according to court documents.

The man, Gary Stephen Maynard, is not charged with starting the Dixie Fire, which started July 13 and has destroyed more than 1,000 structures, and there are no allegations in court documents that he is responsible for any part of that fire.

Maynard, a former college teacher, is charged in a fire that was set in Lassen County on Saturday, the Ranch Fire, east of the Dixie Fire.

A second fire, the Conard Fire, ignited nearby, and information on a tracking device on Maynard's vehicle showed that he had been there, according to an affidavit filed in the case.

"It appeared that Maynard was in the midst of an arson-setting spree," U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Tyler Bolen wrote in the affidavit.

Maynard, who authorities said had been living in his vehicle, is charged with one count of willfully setting fire to land owned by or under the jurisdiction of the United States, according to a criminal complaint. He denied setting any fires to investigators, court documents say.

Prosecutors cited the smaller fires' proximity to the Dixie Fire in asking a judge to order that Maynard be detained.

"The area in which Maynard chose to set his fires is near the ongoing Dixie fire, a fire which is still not contained despite the deployment and efforts of over 5,000 personnel," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael D. Anderson wrote in a filing.

The Dixie Fire, which is burning in four counties in Northern California, is the largest wildfire in the U.S. and the second-largest fire in California history since accurate records began being kept.

A judge ordered Maynard held. A federal defender listed as representing him did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

A possible motive was not clear from documents. The affidavit filed in the case cites a call to San Jose police from a concerned neighbor in October that raised mental health concerns. In another incident in July, a witness reported that he seemed unwell and had displayed a large knife, according to the document.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman said in a court hearing Tuesday that there may be mental health issues and ordered Maynard to be detained, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Maynard had previously told another investigator looking into a July fire that he was a professor, according to the affidavit.

Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University said Tuesday that he had been with those institutions in the past but not recently.

Santa Clara University said Maynard was an adjunct faculty member in the sociology department from September 2019 to December 2020. Sonoma State University said he was a part-time lecturer in the department of criminology and criminal justice last fall and was contracted to fill in for someone on leave.

Maynard had been investigated after his vehicle was seen in a remote area near a July fire, the Cascade Fire, in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, according to court documents. Mountain bikers saw the fire, called 911 and helped put it out; around 200 square feet burned.

Another fire, also believed to have been arson, was spotted and extinguished the next day, according to the affidavit. Eventually, a judge signed off on an order to place a tracking device on the vehicle, according to the document.

As of Tuesday night, the Dixie Fire was at 490,205 acres, or almost 766 square miles, and it was 27 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire. Of the structures destroyed, 547 were single residences, the agency said.

A cause has not been determined and is under investigation. Pacific Gas & Electric has reported to state regulators that its equipment may have been involved, The Associated Press has reported.