Another destructive California wildfire allegedly the result of arson

Last month I wrote about a former sociology professor named Gary Maynard who had been arrested for (allegedly) being a serial arsonist. Investigators claimed that Maynard could be connected to a whole string of fires which were set near the Dixie Fire in northern California. Special Agents with the Forest Service were so concerned by Maynard’s behavior that they eventually put a tracker on his car so they could follow him and put out fires before they grew too large.

At the time I thought that was a pretty unusual story. Who would want to start a dangerous wildfire which could potentially kill people or destroy homes? In Maynard’s case, there were some indications he might have some mental health problems which preceded the fires.

Yesterday, NBC News reported on a very similar case, this one involving a 30-year-old woman named Alexandra Souverneva. Souverneva has now been charged with setting what became known as the Fawn fire.

Authorities in Northern California last week announced the arrest of a woman who they say ignited a wind-whipped wildfire that quickly tore through steep, rugged terrain, destroying 144 buildings, prompting the evacuation of thousands of people and becoming one of the state’s more destructive blazes this year…

Fire officials said Souverneva was arrested Wednesday night after she emerged from the brush near a fire line northeast of Redding in Shasta County. She had a working lighter in her pocket, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said Friday, and told firefighters that she was dehydrated and needed medical treatment.

According to the Record Searchlight, here’s what happened. Souverneva was seen trying to enter property belonging to a quarry on Sep. 22nd. She was told it was private property and that she should be there but she wandered off into the area anyway. Later, fire fighters were called out because of a “vegetation fire” on the property. At about 8 pm, Souverneva was seen exiting the area at the edge of the fire by the fire crews who had responded. She told them a very curious story of why she was there:

Asked why she was in the area, Souverneva said she’d been hiking, attempting to get to Canada, according to the report. Along the way, she said she became thirsty and found a puddle of water containing what she believed to be bear urine, according to the report.

Souverneva said she unsuccessfully tried to filter the water with a tea bag, according to the narrative. Then she attempted to make a fire to boil the water, but found it was “too wet for the fire to start,” the report said.

According to the report, “she said she drank the water anyway and then continued walking uphill from the creek bed,” where she saw smoke and airplanes “dropping pink stuff.” After that, Souverneva got stuck in the brush and ultimately contacted fire department personnel to assist her, said the report.

Again, this happened in northern California so if she was planning to hike to Canada she had a long, long way to go with no water and no food. Not surprisingly, authorities didn’t buy this story and she was arrested and charged with felony arson. A teacher at a Yoga school Souverneva had attended said she’s the last person he would have imagined would do something like this.

A former colleague and instructor who taught Souverneva at Avalon Yoga International, in Palo Alto, recalled her as a brilliant student who attended the California Institute of Technology and worked for pharmaceutical companies before she burned out on “big money-grubbing corporations.”

“I thought she was an idealistic kid,” said Steve Farmer, the chief executive of Avalon. “She was into conservation and forests.”

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett told NBC News there was no sign Souverneva was drunk or under the influence of drugs at the time and denied there were any indications of mental illness in this case. However, her attorney is saying just the opposite, i.e. that this may have been the result of drug abuse or a mental crisis of some kind. Souverneva allegedly started the Fawn fire just a day after being released from jail on other charges.

In a statement about the charges, authorities said there is reason to think she may be connected to other fires in the county and in other parts of the state. Other charges are possible once the investigation is complete. At the moment, just for the Fawn fire charges, she’s facing up to 9 years in prison. Here’s the announcement by authorities. One of the things noted in this statement is that so far this year Cal Fire has arrested over 100 people for arson in the midst of one of the worst fire seasons in the state’s history. Clearly there are a lot of disturbed people out there.