Gary Maynard, 49, admitted setting multiple fires in the Shasta Trinity National Forest in 2021, as well as in the Lassen National Forest, during a massive wildfire, according to federal prosecutors.
On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to three counts of arson on federal property.
“Maynard set some of his fires behind firefighters who were actively fighting the Dixie Fire, effectively surrounding these firefighters as they responded to one of the largest wildfires in California history,” prosecutors said.
The Dixie Fire, which blazed in northern California during the summer and fall of 2021, was one of the worst wildfires the state has ever seen.
Maynard, who previously taught at Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, is believed to have been exhibiting symptoms of a mental health crisis. According to court documents obtained by Courthouse News, an unnamed witness who crossed paths with him around the time of the fires said he was “mumbling a lot and having bipolar-like behavior.”
He was arrested after investigators attached a tracking device to his car, the court documents state.
Maynard faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each arson count.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 9.