Local law enforcement aids in arrest of suspected arsonist
As the Dixie Fire raged nearby and continued to force evacuations in Lassen and Plumas counties, two small fires started to take hold Saturday, Aug. 7 near Highway 44 in the Lassen National Forest — the Ranch and Conrad incidents.
Now, according to federal court documents detailed by various organizations, the two vegetation fires, which were contained by crews and investigated by law enforcement, seem to be part of a possible string of fires set by alleged arsonist Gary Maynard, of San Jose.
Maynard was booked into the Lassen County Jail Saturday, Aug. 7 following an investigation that included a tracking device being placed on his vehicle while he traveled through Susanville. He now faces a charge of arson in connection to the Ranch Fire.
According to an affidavit requesting an arrest warrant for Maynard by U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Tyler Bolen, the investigation against Maynard began July 20 when two mountain bikers discovered and helped suppress the Cascade Fire, which grew to no more than a 100 to 200 square foot area in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
An investigation by USFS Fire Investigator Brian Murphy excluded all potential causes of the fire, except arson, and during his investigation of the area, the affidavit continued, Murphy observed two vehicles, one of which being a black Kia Soul high-centered on a boulder with a man, later identified as Maynard, laying on the ground beneath the vehicle. When questioned by Murphy and asked about the fires, he said he didn’t know anything. The investigator felt it necessary to distance himself from the man who was acting agitated, but first took a picture of the Kia Soul.
Murphy spoke to the occupant of another vehicle near the scene, identified as Witness 1 in the affidavit, who recalled the driver of the Kia seemed angry, was throwing things and was observed walking in the same direction as that of Cascade Fire. After the witness allegedly observed the driver return to the area, they recalled seeing smoke from the Cascade Fire area.
Following an investigation, Bolen visited the scene and took measurements of the fire track impressions that remain in the soil, which were later matched with impressions found at another suspected arson fire.
In the weeks following, crews continued to investigate potential arson cases in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Lassen National Forest areas in connection to Maynard.
And as time progressed, after identifying Maynard through the license plate observed at the Cascade Fire scene, investigators started tracking his cell phone number and electronic benefits card.
On Aug. 1 he was observed driving through Lassen National Forest and eventually at the Safeway in Susanville before continuing on. Bolen applied and was issued a vehicle tracking warrant. On Aug. 3, Maynard was once again observed at the Susanville Safeway, and while driving in Susanville, a traffic stop conducted by the Susanville Police Department provided Bolen with an opportunity to place a tracking device on the vehicle
“With the vehicle tracking device in place, agents proceeded to check along Maynard’s route and stopping points for evidence of arson and, indeed, located a wildland arson fire,” the affidavit continued.
While following Maynard’s routes of travel, Bolen came across three different wildland fires, he reported.
“On Aug.5, 2021, tracking data showed that the subject vehicle continued south on McCoy Road prior to eventually turning north on Mooney Road. Shortly after the subject vehicle emerged form Mooney Road, USFS Officer Tim Stiefken located a wildfire burning along Mooney Road on the Lassen National Forest. Officer Stiefken poured some water and took actions that helped contain the fire to a small location on the forest floor that was approximately five feet wide, later named the Moon Fire.”
Two days later, the data also placed the Kia Soul, of which Maynard was observed being the soul occupant, near the Ranch and Conrad fires.
“I then observed the tire track impressions that had been left behind by the subject vehicle, which were located at the edge of this new wildland fire. According to the vehicle tracking data, these tire track impressions in the soil were in the same location that the subject vehicle had just been present for the previous 28 hours,” read Bolen’s affidavit under the Ranch Fire portion.
Cal Fire Law Enforcement Officer Mark Rotlisberger investigated both sides and determined the probable cause to be that of arson.
Later, Maynard was located in an area not too far from the Conrad incident through the emergency closure area, and the California Highway Patrol conducted a traffic stop. Following the CHP traffic stop of the subject vehicle, Lassen County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested Maynard for his violation of California Penal Code 409.5, unauthorized entry into a closed emergency area.
Maynard was later transferred to Sacramento County’s jail.
According to a Sacramento Bee article, Maynard is charged in a criminal complaint with willfully setting the Ranch Fire in Lassen County on Saturday, and could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on that count. In a Wednesday hearing, another U.S. magistrate judge ordered Maynard must remain in custody at least until an Aug. 24 preliminary hearing.