Professor of Criminology Charged With Setting Fires to Sierra Nevada Forest

A professor of criminology, Gary Maynard, has been arrested and charged with arson for setting fires to the Sierra Nevada forest. The criminologist who specializes in social deviancy is now awaiting a hearing at a Sacramento jail. Investigators said Maynard appears to be suffering from mental illness linked to the pandemic and his fascination with wildfires, the New York Times reports.

The criminologist-turned-criminal got his doctorate degree in Sociology from Stony Brook University in New York. He taught at Santa Clara, Chapman, and Sonoma State Universities as well as other academic institutions across the country. He had written several articles on deviance and wrote extensively on cult leader Jim Jones and the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana.

Although the university professor carried out a lot of researches on severe forms of narcissistic personality disorder, his students reported that he became errant since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020. He was described as anxious and troubled, and sometimes outright inappropriate by his students. These concerns made Santa Clara University not renew its contract late last year.

One of his former students said Maynard often took virtual Zoom classes from inside a dark bedroom with his ailing father in view and faced a lawsuit from his former landlord. He was also said to send irrelevant videos to students and sometimes ranted in his messages. At a point, he began to live out of his car.

Using food stamp transactions, mobile phone records, as well as a tracker attached to his car, the criminology professor in court documents possibly set off three wildfires from July to the time he was arrested. According to prosecutors, investigators first became interested in the professor when they found him near a wildfire on the slopes of Mount Shasta to the south of the Oregon border. The fire was put out, but Maynard was found close to another wildfire that broke the second day.

And on August 3, he was trailed by officials for Cal Fire, through a tracker on his car, to the Lassen National Forest where he was caught setting several fires. He appeared to have set the Dixie wildfire, which started a short time before he was tracked to the national forest where he was caught red-handed. He pleaded not guilty following his arrest.

“Where Maynard went, fires started,” said acting US attorney Phillip Talbert. “Not just once, but over and over again.”

An arson investigator who has interrogated more than 300 arsonists over a 10-year period, Ed Nordskog, said arsonists are irrational and are the most dangerous criminals in the world.

“The wildland arsonist is the most dangerous criminal in the world,” said Ed Nordskog. “They can burn a whole town down in an hour. Most arsonists are just angry people.”