A college professor is facing arson charges for setting fires in the area where the Dixie Fire is burning.
Forty-seven-year-old Gary Stephen Maynard was arrested on Saturday following an investigation that started last month. Maynard is accused of setting the Ranch Fire near the Mendocino National Forest.
A federal criminal complaint shows that U.S. Forest Agents started investigating Maynard on July 20, the same day as the Cascade Fire. Investigators eventually placed a tracking device on his car after a witness at the fire claims they saw Maynard come from the area where the fire sparked.
“Witness 1 believed the man was mentally unstable, describing the man as, ‘mumbling a lot and having bipolar-like behavior,'” the court documents detailed.
During the investigation into the Cascade Fire, authorities found evidence of additional fires.
“The two small ground fires were each determined to be acts of arson and, indeed, classified as two additional arson fires,” wrote one investigator.
Tracking equipment showed Maynard in the area where the Ranch Fire was ignited. Tire tracks also matched his car.
Investigators claim Maynard set the fire but are unaware of what he used to start it.
According to court records, Maynard was living out of his car and traveling alone across a large section of Northern California. Investigators claim at one point, Maynard worked at Santa Clara University. Sonoma State confirms he also taught at their university during the Fall of 2020 as a part-time lecturer in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Maynard was contracted as a fill-in for faculty members on leave.
On Tuesday, Maynard appeared in federal court where Judge Kendall Newman ordered him to stay in custody pending a hearing on Wednesday.
“They are really clear on how they think he is dangerous and just charged with one, so far, but clearly they are building their case,” explained criminal defense attorney Mark Reichel.
Reichel spent a decade defending federal cases, including arson.
“They really went quickly to get warrants on his phone, tracker for his vehicle and they kept this person as a big suspect right away,” he said.
In a separate court document, investigators detail the severity of the alleged crimes.
“He entered the evacuation zone and began setting fires behind the first responders fighting the Dixie fire. In addition to the danger of enlarging the Dixie fire and threatening more lives and property, this increased the danger to the first responders, ” the document alleges. “Maynard’s fires were placed in the perfect position to increase the risk of firefighters being trapped between fires. But for the dedication and efforts of U.S. Forest Service investigators working around the clock to track Maynard, those fires would not have been discovered in their infancy.”
Once arrested, Maynard denied setting any fires. Investigators say he became enraged and started kicking the jail cell door and screamed; “I’m going to kill you, f****** pig! I told those f****** I didn’t start any of those fires!”
Reichel believes the case will come down to science and DNA to connect the other fires to Maynard.
“The tire tracks are one thing, the defense is obviously going to point out the thousands of people that have the exact same tire. This is going to be a pretty scientific case, they are going to look at cell phone records and towers and try to pin down a location, then they are going to try to look for DNA evidence to see if the person left DNA at the crime scene,” Reichel explained.
Authorities are looking into multiple other fires that occurred during July and August to see if Maynard is connected.
Reichel suspects Maynard could serve around 20 years in federal prison if convicted of causing multiple fires.