University professor admits setting fires behind Dixie Fire firefighters

A former university professor who taught criminal justice (you can’t make this stuff up) has pleaded guilty to setting fires behind firefighters on the 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California, which was at the time the second-largest fire in state history.

arsonist "Professor" Gary Maynard
Arsonist Professor Gary Maynard

Gary Maynard, 49, of San Jose was in federal court this week on three counts of arson on federal property, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento. The fires that Maynard started effectively surrounded the firefighters, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The Mercury News reported that the Dixie Fire burned through five counties over 963,300 acres, destroying 1,311 structures and killing one person, according to Cal Fire.

Also, Marcus Pacheco, an assistant fire engine operator for the Lassen National Forest, died of Covid while working the fire, as did two water tender operators, Jose T. Calderon and Cessar Saenz, both of San Diego County.

Maynard faces up to 20 years in a prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the three counts of arson on federal property, the U.S. Justice Department said in a press release following his plea on Thursday; sentencing is set for May.  He was charged with setting four fires — Cascade, Everitt, Ranch, and Conard — and under the plea agreement he admitted to three of the four counts.

The Dixie Fire itself was ignited when Pacific Gas & Electric powerlines came in contact with a nearby pine tree, according to Cal Fire. PG&E paid $45 million to settle the lawsuit.

At Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, Maynard lectured in criminal justice, cults and — seriously — deviant behavior.

Gary Maynard, arsonist

USFS agents started their investigation of him and his activities back in July of 2021 after the Cascade Fire was reported on the slopes of Mt. Shasta; an investigator found Maynard underneath his black Kia Soul, which was stuck in a ditch with its undercarriage high-centered. A second fire took off on Mt. Shasta the next day, and investigators found tire tracks similar to those of the Kia. They set a tracking device under Maynard’s Kia in August, which recorded his travel  to the area where the Ranch and Conard fires started on the Lassen National Forest.

As part of his plea, Maynard also agreed Thursday to pay up to $500,000 in restitution to the federal government.

~ Thanks and a tip of the hardhat to Jim. 

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8 thoughts on “University professor admits setting fires behind Dixie Fire firefighters”

  1. The arsonist that was finally caught after lighting the Mt. Emily fire in southern Oregon had been lighting fires for several years in the area. After he was caught, they looked at where he had lived and there was an association with fires of suspicious origin all over the western US. We were very relieved when he was finally caught – the investigation relied on beer cans, newspapers and cardboard boxes used to package the plastic sleeves that the newspaper was delivered in on wet days…

  2. Unfortunately my history in fire tells me there are more serial arsonists running free than most suspect. One of our biggest problems outside CA is the lack of networking and the lack of training in investigations in fire districts and municipal fire operations. I think low frequency of events tends to have leadership place wildland fire investigation on the lowest of burners. Only one wildland fire incident has resulted in the death penalty, curious if this “highly educated professor” ever gave that a thought on consequences.

    Hats off and all due respect to those who paid the ultimate price during the Esperanza Fire.

    1. Bob, I have to say I am really saddened to say that I agree, especially with your first statement. Do you know whether wildland investigators have any kind of association or organization for networking or contacts or workshops? I’d love to help with that. Editing Maclean’s Esperanza book made me practically fall in love from afar with the lead investigator. There was certainly strong interest in the investigation:

      • from wikipedia: “A nearly $600,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist(s). Several governments, as well as private agencies, donated to this reward. The State of California, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, and Tim Blixseth, a Coachella Valley logging industry magnate, each donated $100,000.”

      I still occasionally get a ranty email from the other guy who was investigated (along with Oyler) on that fire. There is a brief but FACTUAL old report on this website naming him and he insists he’s got the copyright to it and he’s going to sue me.

  3. Did anyone ask him why ? Maybe this is not the first time. I noticed when the Tubbs Fire started by PG&E there was other small fires and I thought how, maybe some arsonist is setting more fires after a PG&E fire thinking he wont get caught. Maybe his beef is with PG&E to increase the damage? But before we put this guy to death we should pick his brain and get to the why? After that then we can dispose of him. Was any of this land federal, if so would this not have both State and Federal charges.

    1. Definitely a little more complicated than anger at PG&E. For some serious insight into arson and the investigators, read John Maclean’s book on the Esperanza Fire.

  4. He should have been charged with first degree murder for the three deaths involved with the fire. Under California law, any death involved in the commission of a felony is to be considered a murder.

    Previous case involved the two Hells Angel dirtbags that started the BUS incident where two airtankers working the fir had a midair collision, causing the deaths of both pilots. They were charged with murder in the first degree.

  5. Either hang his ass or lock him up permanently after throwing away his cell key !!!
    The three deaths were a direct result of his actions and under California law are a known first degree murder situation. Under previous cases, such as the two defendants in the mid-air collision of two CalFire airtankers on the Bus incident, August 27, 2001

    1. I really don’t want to support him for the 20 plus years, the death penalty would elevate the burden.


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