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Former California professor indicted on arson charges in 4 wildfires

Gary Stephen Maynard is accused of setting the small fires in the area of the Dixie Fire, some of which were behind firefighters battling the larger blaze.

A former California professor accused of setting a series of small wildfires near where the massive Dixie Fire was burning this year was indicted Thursday on federal charges, prosecutors said.

Gary Stephen Maynard, 47, of San Jose, was indicted on four counts of arson to federal property and one count of setting timber afire, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California said.

He is not accused of setting the Dixie Fire, but is accused of setting four fires in July and August in the vicinity where firefighters were battling it.

Two of the fires, which were caught quickly, were set behind fire lines where crews were fighting the Dixie Fire and could have trapped them had they grown, prosecutors have said.

The other two fires were contained at between 200 square feet and less than one acre, according to court documents.

A public defender listed as representing Maynard did not immediately return a request for comment late Thursday.

Court documents do not appear to detail a motive. Maynard, who was arrested in August, denied setting any fires to investigators, according to documents.

Maynard has, at times, been an adjunct faculty member and part-time lecturer Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, but not recently, the universities have said.

The Dixie Fire jumps Highway 89 in Plumas County, Calif. in August 2021.Noah Berger / AP, file

At the time of the arsons, he was living in his car, according to court documents.

He faces up to 20 years in prison on each count of arson, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The Dixie Fire would become the second largest in recorded state history, burning more than 963,000 acres. The fire started on July 13 and was fully contained on Oct. 25, according to fire officials. The cause is under investigation.