Ex-professor sentenced for setting at least 7 fires during record California wildfire season

A former criminal justice professor who set at least seven fires during a year featuring some of California’s most destructive wildfires — including igniting a blaze near the 2021 Dixie Fire — was sentenced Thursday to five years and three months in prison, prosecutors said.

Gary Stephen Maynard, 49, pleaded guilty to three counts of arson on federal property in February. Prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum that Maynard exhibited wanton and deliberate actions while setting fires designed to harm individuals.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said in a statement announcing the sentence.

Maynard was arrested in August 2021 after investigators tracked his black Kia Soul for hundreds of miles through Northern California He filmed himself igniting blazes for which he hasn’t been charged, prosecutors wrote.

Authorities first came across Maynard during July 2021’s Cascade Fire, reported on the western slopes of Mount Shasta. The fire was contained from spreading beyond 100 to 200 square feet in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Siskiyou County, according to previous Bee reporting.

The next day, investigators encountered tire tracks similar to those made by a Kia hatchback near a fire burning by Everitt Memorial Highway in Mount Shasta, previous reporting said.

Authorities fastened a tracking device to Maynard’s car and, by also monitoring his EBT card usage, followed him around California. They pinpointed him near where the Ranch and Conard fires ignited in the Lassen National Forest.

He was finally caught settling blazes in an evacuation zone behind firefighters battling the Dixie Fire, California’s second-largest wildfire, prosecutors said.

Maynard suffered from untreated mental health issues and was homeless when arson spree began, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by his attorneys. He has been attempting to treat his illnesses while in custody and will continue his treatment in prison, the defense wrote.

Maynard taught at various schools, including as an adjunct faculty member in Santa Clara University’s sociology department and as a lecturer at Sonoma State University specializing in criminal justice, cults and deviant behavior.