Aug. 11 (UPI) — The Dixie Fire surpassed 500,000 acres on Wednesday as a college professor was arrested on suspicion of starting a series of blazes in the surrounding area.
The blaze, which is the second-largest in California’s history, has grown to 501,008 acres spanning across Butte, Lassen and Tehama counties and was 30% contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said.
To date, the Dixie Fire has destroyed 1,045 structures and damaged 69 more. A total of 6,092 personnel have been deployed to combat the fire including 502 fire engines, 204 water tenders, 197 dozers and 20 helicopters.
A federal complaint shows that Gary Stephen Maynard, 47, was arrested Saturday after U.S. forest agents launched an investigation into him last month, accusing him of setting the Ranch Fire near the Mendocino National Forest.
“Over the course of the last several weeks, Maynard has set a series of fires in the vicinity of the Lassen National Forest and Shasta Trinity National Forest,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anderson wrote in a detention memo. “The area in which Maynard chose to set his fires is near the ongoing Dixie Fire, a fire which is still not contained despite the deployment and efforts of over 5,000 personnel.”
U.S. forest agents began investigating Maynard on July 20, the same day the Cascade Fire began. Investigators placed a tracking device on his car after a witness said they saw Maynard come from the area where the blaze was sparked.
During the investigation, authorities found evidence of additional fires as tracking equipment showed Maynard in the are where the Ranch Fire was ignited and tire tracks in the area matched his vehicle.
Anderson on Tuesday urged U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman not to release Maynard from custody.
“There are simply no conditions that could be fashioned that could ensure the safety of the public with respect to this defendant,” he said.