A former criminal justice professor pled guilty in federal court Thursday to intentionally setting fires behind firefighters who were battling the Dixie Fire, the second-largest fire in California history, reports USA Today. Gary Stephen Maynard, 49, a lecturer in criminal justice studies at Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, pleaded guilty to three counts of arson on federal government property, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento. Maynard admitted to setting blazes, "effectively surrounding these firefighters," said the U.S. Attorney's Office. The Dixie Fire burned through five counties in California. The Dixie Fire was caused when Pacific Gas and Electric Company power lines came in contact with a nearby pine tree.
U.S. Forest Service agents began investigating Maynard after the Cascade Fire was reported on the western slopes of Mount Shasta. An investigator found Maynard underneath his black Kia Soul, and when a second fire erupted the next day on Mount Shasta, investigators later found tire tracks similar to those made by the Kia. Investigators eventually placed a tracking device under Maynard’s car and found that Maynard traveled to the area where the Ranch and Conard Fires erupted in the Lassen National Forest, where the Dixie Fire was also burning. Maynard's sentencing is set for May 9 by U.S. District Judge Daniel Calabretta. He faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines for each of the fires he admitted setting . Maynard agreed to pay up to $500,000 in restitution to the federal government.