Fast-moving wildfire forces evacuations in Redding; Bay Area woman suspected of arson

·3 min read

Mandatory evacuations were underway Thursday in a Redding neighborhood and surrounding areas due to a new wildfire exploding in size amid dry, gusty weather.

Investigators have arrested a Bay Area woman on suspicion of arson in connection with the fire.

The Fawn Fire, burning near Fawndale and Radcliff roads northeast of Shasta Lake, was 1,200 acres with 5% containment and was threatening about 2,000 structures by noon, Cal Fire’s Shasta unit said in a midday incident report.

Areas off north of Old Oregon Trail north of Akrich Street and east of Interstate 5 were ordered to evacuate, Shasta County sheriff’s officials and the Redding Police Department said shortly after 1 p.m., as well as Holiday Road south of Old Oregon Trail.

This includes the Tierra Oaks subdivision within Redding, along with neighborhoods just north of city limits in the Mountain Gate area.

Areas east of Old Oregon Trail Road, north of Highway 299 and south of Bear Mountain Road are under evacuation warnings, meaning residents should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Sheriff’s officials also issued an evacuation warning for areas west of I-5 and north of Old Oregon Trail shortly before 2 p.m.

The Shasta College campus, located in the evacuation warning area, closed due to the fire.

The Fawn Fire ignited around 4:45 p.m. Wednesday and was burning “heavy and dense timber,” in steep terrain with difficult access, Cal Fire said in a Thursday update.

Cal Fire in a news release shortly after 1 p.m. announced the arrest of a 30-year-old Palo Alto woman on suspicion of arson.

“The fire was located in a deep and remote canyon on property accessed through the JF Shea and Mountain Gate Quarries,” Cal Fire officials wrote.

Employees in that area reported seeing a woman trespassing on quarry property and “acting irrationally.” Around 8 p.m., a woman “walked out of the brush near the fire line and approached firefighters stating she was dehydrated and needed medical treatment.”

The woman, identified as Alexandra Andreevna Souverneva, was then interviewed by Cal Fire law enforcement officers. Investigators determined her as responsible for causing the fire, according to the news release.

Souverneva was arrested and booked into the Shasta County jail and is being held on $100,000 bail. Booking records from other jurisdictions show Souverneva has multiple recent arrests for minor charges, including a Sept. 12 arrest on suspicion of misdemeanor trespassing in Douglas County, Oregon.

Cal Fire said it would recommend that the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office charge Souverneva with wildland arson, a charge that would include an enhancement due to California’s current state of emergency for wildfire danger.

A LinkedIn profile for Souverneva — which displays her current title as “shaman” — says she received a bachelor’s degree from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech is considered by many to be the nation’s most prestigious STEM university. Her profile also lists her as a graduate student at State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Commencement programs confirm Souverneva graduated from Caltech with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology in 2012, and a SUNY news release from 2016 listed her as a graduate student who contributed to algal bloom research.

An evacuation shelter has been set up at the First Church of the Nazarene in Redding. A “temporary collection point for evacuees” had been set up at the Shasta College parking lot, but the college is now included in the evacuation order.

“Hot, dry conditions and gusty winds are causing significant fire growth and rapidly changing conditions.

More than 550 firefighters were assigned to the incident midday Thursday, and aircraft were assisting.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting