A former university professor has been accused of starting four wildfires in northern California.
It is alleged that Gary Stephen Maynard, 47, started fires in July and August that could have trapped the crews as they battled the Dixie fire – the second largest wildfire in state history.
More than 6,000 firefighters fought the flames, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes, businesses and other structures.
Maynard is accused of starting the Cascade and Everitt fires on July 20 and 21, and the Ranch and Conard fires on August 7.
Investigators followed Maynard’s black Kia Soul car as they continued their investigations.
US Forest Service agents began investigating him after the cascading fire was reported on the western slopes of Mount Shasta.
According to court documents, Maynard was found under the car, its front wheels stuck in a ditch and its undercarriage on a rock.
When a second fire broke out on Mount Shasta the next day, investigators apparently found tire tracks similar to those made by the Kia.
After Maynard was briefly arrested by police on August 3, a tracker was placed under his car.
Its movements were then followed for hundreds of kilometers. Investigators said he visited the area where the Ranch and Conard fires broke out in the Lassen National Forest.
“It appeared Maynard was in the midst of a wave of arson attacks,” court documents said.
He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000 (£ 186,000) for each count of arson on federal property, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California said in a statement.
He has denied lighting the flames, added court documents, and is in detention awaiting trial.
In August, Assistant US Attorney Michael Anderson wrote in a detention note that Maynard had entered the evacuation area and “started setting fire behind first responders fighting the Dixie Fire.”
This “increased the danger to first responders,” Anderson added.
Maynard appears to have taught briefly at Santa Clara University and Sonoma State University, where a Gary Maynard was on the roster of criminal justice studies professors, specializing in criminal justice, sects and deviant behavior.
It no longer belongs to either of the two institutions.