A woman from Palo Alto, Calif., Has been charged with arson in connection with a wildfire that burned approximately 9,850 acres and damaged more than 25 buildings in Shasta County, worsening the toll of a harvest season. already brutal fires in the state, authorities said. .
The woman, Alexandra Souverneva, 30, who was arrested on Thursday, faces up to nine years in state prison if convicted, Shasta County prosecutors said. The Fawn fire was about 10% contained on Friday night and resulted in mandatory evacuations in parts of the county.
Ms Souverneva may also have started other fires in Shasta County, located in northern California, authorities said. Officials declined to say what other fires she might be linked to, but county prosecutor Stephanie A. Bridgett said in an interview on Friday that there were more than one in her county and at least one more in another county.
Forest fires in California burned nearly two million acres so far this year, according to Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency.
Employees at a local business in the Mountain Gate area near Redding, about 160 miles north of Sacramento, told Cal Fire officials Ms Souverneva was seen walking in and “acting strangely” on Wednesday. , when the fire started, Ms Bridgett said at a press conference. press conference Friday night. She did not specify.
Ms Souverneva was told to leave and employees saw her flee to the hills above their location that afternoon, Cal Fire battalion chief JT Zulliger said. The fire started around this time at 4:45 p.m. local time, he said.
Cal Fire officials then saw Ms Souverneva come out of the bush with a lighter in her pocket, Ms Bridgett said. Ms Souverneva told firefighters at the scene that she was dehydrated and needed medical treatment, Ms Bridgett said.
“She was right there, in the immediate vicinity of where the fire started,” Ms. Bridgett said. Ms Souverneva walked out of a wooded area “where no one else was,” Ms Bridgett said.
After being treated and evacuated, she was arrested, Chief Zulliger said.
A message left at a phone number listed for Ms. Souverneva was not answered on Friday. It was not immediately clear if she had a lawyer.
Ms. Souverneva majored in chemistry and biology at the California Institute of Technology and graduated in 2012, said Kathy A. Svitil, a spokesperson for the school. According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms. Souverneva worked as a part-time tutor in 2020 and a medicinal chemistry researcher at Gilead Sciences before that.
The Fawn fire spread quickly due to the dry winds, authorities said. “People have to flee the area very quickly,” Ms. Bridgett said. “There are a lot of community members still evacuating. “
Images posted by the TV channel KRCR showed a sky smothered in smoke, fires turning structures to ash, and wooden houses crumbling in a bright orange and red flame.
Fourteen arson arrests were made this year in Shasta County, and 103 statewide, according to Chief Zulliger. He did not share a possible motive in Ms Souverneva’s case, but said arsonists usually act under duress.