A woman from Palo Alto charged with arson in connection with a forest fire in Shasta County told authorities she was trying to boil bear urine in water in a stream during the day where the fire started, according to a criminal complaint.
Alexandra Souverneva, 30, is accused of setting fire “willfully, illegally and maliciously” on forest land in the Mountain Gate area, near Redding on Wednesday, causing the Fawn fire, which destroyed 185 structures and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents.
She faces an arson charge with a reinforced arson charge during a state of emergency. Together, the charges could result in up to nine years in prison, in Shasta County Dist. Atty. said Stéphanie Bridgett. She pleaded not guilty.
Souverneva told Cal Fire officials that she was walking to Canada when she got thirsty and found a puddle near the bed of a dry creek, court records show. The water contained bear urine, Souverneva said, and after an unsuccessful attempt to filter it through a tea bag, she tried to start a fire to boil the water instead. But, she said, “it was too humid for the fire to start.”
She still drank some water and continued up the hill, she told authorities, until she saw smoke and “planes dropping pink stuff,” then contacted firefighters.
Quarry workers reported seeing a woman matching Souverneva’s description who was “acting irrationally” near where the blaze started on Wednesday afternoon. Court documents say the woman continued to walk east through the vegetation, leaving behind two carbon dioxide cartridges and a battery along a dirt road.
Later that night, firefighters found Souverneva as they battled the growing blaze and assessed her for possible dehydration. At the time, she was carrying a working lighter and a “pink and white object containing a green leafy substance that she admitted to having smoked that day,” Cal Fire Officer Matt Alexander reported.
She was also carrying carbon dioxide cartridges that matched those found near the quarry, according to the criminal complaint.
In addition to arson charges, Souverneva, who has been appointed a public defender, could face additional charges as Fawn’s fire continues to burn. She remains in custody in lieu of a $ 150,000 bond.
“We’re still waiting for the final damage assessment to know the extent of the structural damage … before we can decide whether we can lay additional charges,” Bridgett said Tuesday. “I will say additional charges are probably based on what I know so far.”
Fire officials believe Souverneva may also be responsible for a vegetation fire in Shasta Lake City that ignited the night before. And Bridgett said it could be linked to other fires in the county and elsewhere in California.
“In my experience, arsonists are responsible for multiple fires and will start multiple fires in a short period of time,” Alexander wrote in the complaint.
Arrests for arson have not been uncommon in California this year. Cal Fire Battalion Commander JT Zulliger said Cal Fire’s Shasta-Trinity unit made 14 arson arrests this year, and there have been 103 of those arrests statewide .
“We are still in critical danger of fire and (…) we ask the public to be extremely cautious and cautious of any type of outdoor activity that could start a fire,” he said. he declares. “We still have a long way to go until the rains come.”
The Fawn fire has now burned more than 8,570 acres, which led Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday to declare a state of emergency in Shasta County.
The blaze continued to grow for several days, but on Sunday evening officials said its progress had been halted. As of Tuesday morning, it was 65% content, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Despite the containment, mandatory evacuation orders remain in place and fire crews were preparing for potential high winds that could carry embers and start point fires.