A California woman has been charged with sparking a giant wildfire that’s burnt through thousands of acres of Shasta County. Her reason for starting the fire, she claims, was a failed attempt at boiling a puddle filled with bear pee.
Alexandra Souverneva, a 30-year-old former Bay Area biotech researcher who lists herself as a “shaman” on LinkedIn, was arrested on Thursday, September 23, and charged with “arson to wildland” related to the Fawn Fire, according to the Shasta County District Attorney's Office.
As of September 28, the Fawn Fire has burned at least 35 square kilometers (13.5 square miles) and destroyed 185 structures in California. It's also taken almost 1,700 personnel to deal with it, including three firefighters who sustained injuries. Around 30 percent of the wildfire remains uncontained.
Firefighters reportedly saw Souverneva walking out of the brush near the fire at around 8 pm on September 22, claiming she was dehydrated and needed medical assistance. After being medically evaluated, she was interviewed by CAL FIRE law enforcement. Court documents show that CAL FIRE asked Souverneva to empty her fanny pack and pockets, revealing that she was in possession of a cigarette lighter and an "item containing a green leafy substance that she admitted to smoking that day.”
Upon questioning, she claimed she had been hiking in California’s Shasta County attempting to get to Canada, over 1,100 kilometers (684 miles) away. She also told the officer she had become dehydrated and came across a puddle of water contaminated with bear urine. After unsuccessfully trying to filter the water with a teabag, she attempted to boil the water. However, she claimed it was “too wet for the fire to start,” so she simply drank the pee-puddle water and continued walking.
For the record, drinking pee is not advisable in a survival situation, despite what Bear Grylls told you on TV. A healthy, well-hydrated person can drink small amounts of their own urine without too much worry. Urine is typically about 95 percent water, but it also contains urea, inorganic salts, creatinine, ammonia, and pigmented products of blood breakdown. Consuming this significant amount of salt, which gets much more concentrated as you become more dehydrated, will only end up making you more thirsty and dehydrated. While boiling a muddy puddle full of a bear pee will do a reasonable job at sterilizing the water, it won’t do much to get rid of the other products found in urine.
Anyway, back to the story. After her arrest and interview by a CAL FIRE officer, Souverneva has been linked to another wildfire in Shasta County around 8 kilometers (5 miles away) from the Fawn Fire. Additional charges related to this second fire have not yet been filed.
“It is my opinion there is a high possibility she is responsible for the vegetation fire in Shasta Lake City the previous evening,” CAL FIRE officer Matt Alexander said in a statement to Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett. “It is my experience that arsonists are responsible for multiple fires and will light multiple fires in a short timeframe.”
Souverneva has pleaded not guilty to charges of arson in the Fawn Fire and remains in custody on $100,000 bail. If found guilty, she could face up to nine years in prison.