According to allegations on a criminal complaint, the woman accused of starting the Fawn fire now razing a forest in northern California — who is facing felony arson charges — stated that she was attempting to boil water she believed contained bear urine while on a trip to Canada.
Alexandra Souverneva, a 30-year-old resident of Palo Alto, was charged by the district attorney’s office in Shasta County, California, with “willfully, unlawfully, and maliciously” setting fire to an area north of Redding, forcing thousands of people to evacuate.
Souverneva was indicted on a felony charge of forest land arson with an added aggravating circumstance of arson during a state of emergency caused by wildfires. Shasta County authorities also claim Souverneva, who pled not guilty when she appeared in court on Friday, may be involved in starting another fire somewhere in the county.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday issued a state of emergency for Shasta County as a result of the Fawn Fire, which began on September 22 and has burned more than 8,500 acres of land thus far. As of 7 p.m. local time Monday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said that 60 percent of the Fawn Fire had been subdued, with three firefighters hurt and 184 structures destroyed.
An officer from Cal Fire was sent to a quarry to assess a vegetation fire on September 22, according to the complaint. A foreman informed him and his workers that a White female intruder had been sighted earlier that day, despite their warnings that she was on private property. The officer stated that he looked for her but was unable to locate her.
That night, when the Fawn Fire began, officers who were working to put it out discovered Souverneva near where the fire had begun. A law enforcement officer asked her to empty her pockets and fanny pack, discovering a lighter, CO2 cartridge, and “a pink and white item restrain a green leafy substance she admitted to smoking that day.”
Souverneva told the officer that she was drinking water at a puddle and “was shocked to discover it was full of bear urine.” She attempted to “boil the water using a teabag,” but because it was so wet, she could not “ignite the fire.” She said she kept hiking until she noticed smoke and was assisted by fire department personnel.
After the roof of a home burned down, authorities arrested Souverneva and charged her with felony arson. According to authorities, no cause was given for the fire. “It is my experience that arsonists are responsible for many fires and will set off multiple blazes in a short period of time,” the officer who questioned her wrote.
“We are aware that there may be additional fires in our county, as well as other charges linked to other fires across the state,” Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said at a news conference Friday. “My office will not hesitate to pursue anyone who starts a fire either deliberately or carelessly.”
Since the Fawn Fire is still burning, Bridgett said more accusations are likely. Souverneva will appear in court again on October 5. She faces up to nine years behind bars if convicted.
The fire’s containment was aided by approximately 1,800 Cal Fire and other personnel, according to the department. The blaze is now burning with low to moderate intensity in timber and ground fuels, it added. The Fawn Fire is the latest in a series of large blazes — aided by severe weather like drought and extreme heat — that have ravaged forest regions in California this summer and elsewhere, depleting firefighting resources and raising concerns about global warming.
Since August of last year, six of California’s seven largest fires have occurred.
At a press conference in Redding on Friday, Cal Fire’s Shasta County Unit said that the Shasta County Unit of Cal Fire has made 14 arson arrests and that CAL FIRE has arrested 103 persons throughout California for arson.
“We possess a long way to go until the rains come,” he added. “We are still in critical fire danger, and we ask folks to be extremely cautious and careful about any type of outside activity that might cause a fire.”
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