The former professor has pleaded guilty to arson behind the massive 2021 Dixie Fire

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SALINAS, Calif. — A former criminal justice professor has pleaded guilty to intentionally setting fires behind firefighters battling the Dixie Fire, which broke out in 2021 and became the second-largest in California history.

Gary Steven Maynard, 49, of San Jose, California, pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to three counts of arson on federal government property, according to the British Daily Mail. U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento. Maynard admitted to lighting the flames behind firefighters who were battling the Dixie Fire, “effectively trapping the firefighters,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The Dixie Fire burned through five upstate counties, including Shasta, where it has scorched 963,309 acres, destroyed 1,311 structures and killed one person, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Dixie Fire itself broke out when Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power lines came into contact with a nearby pine tree, igniting the blaze, according to Cal Fire.

Tire tracks helped investigators in the case

He has taught at Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, where Gary Maynard is listed as a lecturer in criminal justice studies specializing in criminal justice, cults, and deviant behavior. He is no longer with either school, according to the Associated Press.

U.S. Forest Service agents began investigating Maynard on July 20 after the Cascade Fire was reported on the western slopes of Mount Shasta.

An investigator found Maynard underneath his black Kia Soul, which had its front wheels stuck in a ditch and its undercarriage resting on a rock, according to court records cited by the AP.

The AP added that a second fire broke out the next day on Mount Shasta, and investigators later found tire marks similar to those made by the Kia.

Investigators eventually placed a tracking device under Maynard’s car after police stopped him briefly on August 3. After tracking his movements for hundreds of miles, investigators said Maynard traveled to the area where the Ranch and Cunard fires burned in the Lassen National Forest, where the Dixie Fire was also burning at the time.

Maynard’s sentencing is set for May 9 by U.S. District Judge Daniel Calabretta. Maynard faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each fire he pleaded guilty to setting, officials said. However, the judge will have the final say on Maynard’s prison term and fines.

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

This article originally appeared on the Redding Record Searchlight: Former professor pleads guilty to arson while crews battle Dixie Fire

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