A California “shaman” charged with starting a wildfire that is threatening thousands of homes claimed it started by accident — while she was boiling bear urine to drink, according to local reports.
Alexandra Souverneva, 30, faces up to nine years in prison for allegedly sparking the Fawn Fire, which has destroyed 41 homes and 90 smaller structures and is threatening 2,340 others, officials have said. She has pleaded not guilty.
She is now being eyed for possibly starting other fires across the Golden State, according to the Redding Record-Searchlight.
As the fire in Shasta County raged on Wednesday, Souverneva claimed she’d been hiking and trying to get to Canada, according to documents obtained by the outlet.
She told forest officials that she was thirsty and had come across a puddle of what she believed to be bear urine — and tried to make a fire to boil it, according to documents obtained by the outlet.
She found it was “too wet for the fire to start,” so she downed the water that she thought was animal urine and continued on her way, the report said.
Souverneva eventually got trapped in the brush amid the inferno and had to call the fire department to help her, according to the report.
She was asked to empty her pockets and fanny pack — which had CO2 cartridges, a cigarette lighter and an item “containing a green, leafy substance she admitted to smoking that day,” according to Cal Fire officer Matt Alexander.
Workers at a nearby quarry reported seeing a woman toss two small CO2 cartridges that matched the ones found in her bag on the same day the Fawn Fire ignited, Alexander said in court documents.
On her LinkedIn, Souverneva lists “shaman” as her current occupation and indicates that she was a Ph.D student at SUNY’s New York College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry.
An attorney for Souverneva told her initial court hearing that she’d made statements to law enforcement that indicated a possible mental health crisis “or something to do with drug abuse.”
“She is also under suspicion for starting other fires,” said the attorney, who was not identified by the paper.
Alexander said in a report that “there is a high possibility she is responsible” for a fire the previous evening, too.
“It is my experience that arsonists … will light multiple fires in a short timeframe,” Alexander said, according to the paper.
At a press conference, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said Souverneva had contact with law enforcement in connection to arson “in our county and other counties as well” but did not elaborate.
Shasta County Sheriff Michael L. Johnson broke news of the arrest to angry residents who’d been displaced or had their homes destroyed, The Mercury News said.
“It is difficult to grasp when disaster like this is, apparently, not a natural disaster. But we have a suspect,” Johnson told them.