College lecturer arrested on suspicion of setting fires inside Dixie Fire evacuation zone

Until last year, Gary Maynard had been a college lecturer. He taught criminal justice at Sonoma State University, and worked as an adjunct faculty member at Santa Clara University.

But he is now accused of felony arson, for intentionally setting a series of fires this month near the 500,000 square-acre Dixie Fire.

"The fact that somebody would be intentionally setting those fires is not only a threat to the community, but also a threat to the firefighters," said Martin O’Connor, an associate professor in the Univ. of New Haven Dept. of Fire Science & Criminal Justice.

In court filings Wednesday, Michael Anderson, the Asst. U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California wrote Maynard, "…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…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. With Maynard’s growing fires at their backs, firefighters would have been placed at much greater risk."

During a mid-afternoon virtual detention hearing, prosecutors asked Maynard be held without bail, and the presiding U.S. magistrate agreed. He said there were no conditions or combination of conditions that would ensure the defendant would appear for future court dates, and would not be a danger to the community.

"When you factor in other kinds of activities caused by human beings, it just makes a difficult job even more difficult and more dangerous," said O’Connor.

Sonoma State University’s vice president of communications emailed a statement to KTVU, which read in part, "Maynard was contracted to fill in for a faculty member who was on leave. He taught two semesters in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies in Fall 2020. Maynard does not currently have an appointment with Sonoma State University."

Maynard is being held in the Sacramento County Jail. Bail has been denied. His next court appearance is a scheduled preliminary hearing Aug. 24.