Report: Former professor faces decades in prison for California ‘arson-setting spree’

When firefighters battled the raging Dixie Fire in California earlier this year, they weren’t just fighting the elements, but a crazed ex-professor who had apparently intentionally set the state’s forests ablaze.

Gary Stephen Maynard, 47, was charged Thursday with starting four wildfires near the Dixie Fire that burned up timberland in Northern California, Fox News reported. He faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each of the four counts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California.

“An arson-setting spree”

The second worst wildfire in the state’s entire history, the Dixie Fire incinerated 1,500 square miles and more than 1,000 structures. But as firefighters sought to douse the flames, Maynard, of San Jose, set a series of fires behind them.

He is accused of starting the Cascade and Everitt fires, on July 20 and 21, and the Ranch and Conard Fires on Aug. 7.

According to CBS Sacramento, U.S. Forest Service agents started investigating Maynard when witnesses said they saw the man acting erratically and “mumbling a lot” near where the Cascade fire started, on Mount Shasta.

Authorities were reportedly able to link Maynard with an “arson-setting spree” in Shasta Trinity National Forest and Lassen National Forest via the tire tracks left by his black Kia Soul. Eventually, police caught Maynard in the act of setting the fires when they placed a tracker on his car.

“It appeared that Maynard was in the midst of an arson-setting spree,” court papers said, according to Fox.

Facing heavy jail time

CBS Sacramento reports that Maynard was living out of his car and wandering across northern California by himself when he was arrested. He had brief stints as a lecturer at Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, where he taught criminal justice with a specialty in cults and deviant behavior, Fox said.

Somehow, Maynard went from studying deviants to becoming one himself.

The man is also charged with arson to federal property, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, CBS Sacramento reported. Maynard denies wrongdoing, and he is being held in a Sacramento jail without bail.

According to Fox, prosecutors noted that his actions not only threatened to exacerbate the Dixie Fire but threatened first responders who were trying to end the danger.

A lunatic academic causing widespread destruction to society? There’s a metaphor in this story somewhere.

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