A few more details emerged late Monday in the case of serial arson suspect Alexandra Souverneva, painting a picture of a person on a solo hiking odyssey who was also possibly experiencing a mental health crisis — and Shasta County officials say they have reason to believe that another small vegetation fire set the night before the Fawn Fire was also the work of Souverneva.
One important detail we've learned that had not been reported earlier is that Souverneva was in police custody the day before the Fawn Fire began, arrested sometime earlier last week for resisting arrest — and further details about why she encountered police the first time have not been released. (As SFist reported yesterday, Souverneva had also been arrested earlier in the month — once in Oregon for criminal trespass, and once for a DUI on I-5 near Red Bluff.)
She was released from police custody on the afternoon of September 21, as Bay Area News Group reports, and that night, a small fire that was determined to be arson was spotted and extinguished in Shasta Lake City, about five miles from the ignition point of the Fawn Fire.
In a report to Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett, Cal Fire investigator Matt Alexander said of Souverneva, "It is my opinion there is a high possibility she is responsible for the vegetation fire in Shasta Lake City the previous evening."
He added, "It is my experience that arsonists are responsible for multiple fires and will light multiple fires in a short timeframe."
Souverneva was stopped around 9 a.m. on September 22 and told she was trespassing on private property near quarry north of the city. A quarry worker says she was wearing a black hoodie and gray pants, and when told she couldn't be there, she ignored the worker and walked off into the woods. She also discarded two CO2 cartridges and a battery along the dirt road where she was walking. She was described as "acting irrationally."
Alexander, the investigator, says he later detected a burn pattern in a creek bed near this very area which he believed was the ignition point of the Fawn Fire.
Souverneva allegedly told the investigators that she was thirsty, and she had found a puddle of water that she attempted to "clean" with a teabag. She then allegedly said she tried to boil the water because she believed it contained bear urine, but the fire she lit didn't ignite.
On her person, investigators say she was carrying a cigarette lighter and a "cannabis-like" substance, which she said she had smoked.
The story of Souverneva's arrest has made national headlines, made all the more sensational by the fact that she does not fit the typical profile of an arsonist.
The Washington Examiner went with the occult-sounding "Self-proclaimed shaman accused of starting California fire said she was trying to boil bear urine." NBC News calls her a "former yoga teacher."
As Bay Area News Group notes, arsonists tend to be under the age of 30 and male. A study by Walter Reed Army Medical Center found that 90% of arsonists have histories of mental illness, with over a third being schizophrenic or bipolar. 64% were using drugs or alcohol at the time of their arsons.
Souverneva, 30, graduated from the California Institute of Technology and comes from a family of engineers. She also studied medicinal chemistry at the State University of New York, and had worked as a research associated at two Silicon Valley biotech companies. She reportedly completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training course at a Palo Alto yoga studio, the owner of which, Steve Farmer, told the Chronicle that arson seemed absolutely out of character for Souverneva. He said, though, that she had not been happy working for "Big Pharma."
As of Tuesday morning, the Fawn Fire has scorched 8,577 acres and destroyed 185 structures. It is now 65% contained.