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Ex-criminology professor jailed for 5 years for ‘arson spree’ during Dixie Fires

Ex-criminology professor jailed for 5 years for ‘arson spree’ during Dixie Fires
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A former college professor who specialized in social deviancy was sentenced on Thursday to more than five years in prison for starting four fires in 2021, some of which threatened to trap firefighters as they responded to one of the largest wildfires in California history, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California said.

Gary Stephen Maynard, 49, pleaded guilty in February to three counts of arson on federal property after he set fires behind crews battling the Dixie Fire, which became the second-biggest wildfire in California history, scorching more than 1,500 square miles and destroying more than 1,000 structures. 

Maynard, of San Jose, admitted to starting four fires: the Cascade and Everitt fires on July 20 and 21, and the Ranch and Conard Fires on Aug. 7. He pleaded guilty to three as part of a plea deal and was jailed for 63 months in total.  The fires were extinguished before they could destroy any buildings, according to prosecutors.

DIXIE FIRE BECOMES LARGEST SINGLE WILDFIRE IN CALIFORNIA HISTORY

Gary Stephen Maynard sentenced to prison

Gary Stephen Maynard was sentenced on Thursday to five years and three months in prison for starting four California wildfires in 2021, (Gary Stephen Maynard )

“Maynard went on an arson spree on federal land while California faced one of the worst fire seasons in history,” U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert announced.

“He intentionally made a dangerous situation more perilous by setting some of his fires behind the men and women fighting the Dixie fire, potentially cutting off any chance of escape. It is only because of the quick response by the U.S. Forest Service — and the actions of civilian witnesses — that those fires were extinguished as quickly as they were.”

Forest Service agents started investigating Maynard on July 20 after the Cascade Fire was reported on the western slopes of Mount Shasta. 

An investigator found Maynard underneath his black Kia Soul that had its front wheels stuck in a ditch and its undercarriage centered on a boulder, court papers said. He was living out of his vehicle at the time.

EX-PROFESSOR CHARGED WITH STARTING FOUR CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE

A firefighter sprays water along Highway 89 near South Lake Tahoe, in California on Sept. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A second fire erupted the next day on Mount Shasta, and investigators later found tire tracks similar to those made by the Kia. 

They eventually placed a tracking device under Maynard’s car which confirmed he had traveled to the area where the Ranch and Conard Fires erupted in the Lassen National Forest. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anderson wrote in a detention memo that Maynard had entered the evacuation zone and “began setting fires behind the first responders fighting the Dixie Fire.” 

In sentencing memorandums, Maynard’s attorney said her client was suffering from untreated and significant mental health issues when he set the fires and has sought treatment since then.

Maynard was an adjunct faculty member at Santa Clara University from September 2019 to December 2020 and he had also taught criminology and sociology at Chapman and Sonoma State Universities, the New York Times reports, citing prosecutors. He specialized in criminal justice, cults and deviant behavior.

A Santa Clara University colleague of Maynard’s told the police in October 2020 that Maynard was struggling with anxiety, depression, split personality and wanted to kill himself, the complaint said, per the New York Times. 

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Scorched cars after the Dixie Fires

Scorched cars and trees after a wildfire in Plumas County, California, in 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Maynard was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $13,081 in restitution as part of the plea agreement. 

The Dixie Fire began on July 13, 2021, with fire eventually scorching the Plumas National Forest, Lassen National Forest and Butte, Lassen, Plumas and Tehama counties.

The fire cost more than $610 million over three months to bring it under control, the most expensive in California history, according to the head of Cal Fire.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michael Dorgan is a writer for Fox News Digital and Fox Business.

You can send tips to michael.dorgan@fox.com and follow him on Twitter @M_Dorgan.

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