Speaking to reporters on Friday, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie A. Bridgett said that 30-year-old Alexandra Souverneva of Palo Alto, Calif. had been found with an operable lighter in her pocket.
“We received the [CAL FIRE] report yesterday and today we announce that we have filed felony arson charges against her not only for arson but also for committing an arson during a state of emergency. The maximum penalty that she currently faces is nine years in state prison,” she said.
The investigation into the incident is still underway, though Bridgett noted that additional charges are likely and that Souverneva may be linked to other fires in the county and other fires and charges statewide.
“That is still an ongoing investigation,” she added.
The fire, which Cal Fire battalion chief J.T. Zullinger told reporters on Friday had started at about 4:45 p.m. PT, was found deep in a remote canyon on property accessed through the JF Shea and Mountain Gate Quarries.
In a press release from Cal Fire, the agency said that employees in the area near Fawndale Road north of Mountain Gate had reported seeing a white female adult on Wednesday who was trespassing on the property and acting irrationally.
“At approximately 8:00 p.m. while firefighters were engaged in fighting the fire, a woman, later identified as 30-year-old Alexandra Souverneva of Palo Alto, Calif., walked out of the brush near the fire line and approached firefighters stating she was dehydrated and needed medical treatment. Souverneva was transported off the fire line and medically evaluated and treated,” the statement read.
“Souverneva was then interviewed by Cal Fire law enforcement officers and information was gathered leading officers to believe Souverneva is responsible for causing the fire. She was subsequently arrested then transported and booked into the Shasta County Jail,” Cal Fire wrote then. “Cal Fire will be submitting its case to the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office recommending Souverneva be charged with “arson to wildland.” This charge receives an enhancement due to the declared “state of emergency” California is currently in due to wildfire danger.”
Zullinger said that 14 arson arrests have been made this year in Shasta County and more than 100 have been made statewide, noting that arsonists typically act on compulsion.
Palo Alto High School newspaper The Campanile reported Thursday that Souverneva had graduated from “Paly” in 2009 and tutored students in chemistry and biology through AJ Tutoring after obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences and Forestry from the California Institute of Technology in 2012.
According to Sourverneva’s LinkedIn profile, she worked as a part-time tutor for AJ Tutoring in 2020.
The Fawn Fire is currently just 10% contained and is one of many fires throughout the Golen State, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), there are 67 active large fires burning throughout the West, including 10 in California.
Nearly 2,000 area residents were placed under mandatory evacuation orders Friday and another 7,400 were under evacuation warnings, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Approximately 9,000 structures were threatened by the Fawn Fire and more than 100 have already gone up in smoke.
Firefighters have hoped that shifting winds and cooler temperatures will aid their efforts.
Fires have burned more than 3,600 square miles thus far in 2021, including more than 3,200 homes, commercial properties and other structures.
Crippling drought and record-breaking temperatures linked to climate change have made the West’s wildfires harder to fight and scientists say climate change will continue to make conditions more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive in coming years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.