A California woman charged with igniting the destructive Fawn Fire has a rather strange explanation for the blaze. This is all a huge mistake, you see. She was just trying to purify bear piss-contaminated water by boiling it.
The strange story comes from the charging documents against Alexandra Souverneva, a Palo Alto woman accused of igniting the Fawn Fire. While the explanation may be somewhat farcical, the impact of the fire has been severe.
We’ll get to that in a second, but first we need to talk about Souverneva’s story. She was arrested last week for allegedly starting the explosive fire near Redding, California. In the documents detailing the arrest and charges, Cal Fire law enforcement chronicle tracking her down after local workers reported seeing a woman walking in the woods near the quarry where the fire started.
When Cal Fire found her, Souverneva was dehydrated. She claimed to be walking to Canada, located roughly 1,127 kilometres to the north. She also told the officer she was thirsty and came upon a puddle of dirty water contaminated with bear urine. After trying to filter it through a tea bag, a method that might clear out any debris but does not, as far as I know, work for bear urine, she decided to go the boiling route by lighting a fire.
“She stated it was too wet for the fire to start,” the charging documents note. “She said she drank the water anyway and then continued walking uphill from the creek bed.”
Now boiling urine can yield drinkable water. But doing so would require a setup that sounds a little more advanced than what Souverneva had on her person. The documents note she had a lighter, carbon dioxide cartridges, a “pink and white item containing a green leafy substance,” and “miscellaneous items” in a fanny pack and her pockets. Hardly the setup to filter bear piss from water on a 1,127 km trek to Canada, though boiling water would at least kill most bacteria and other creepy crawlies that could make you sick.
Cal Fire has said it’s possible that Souverneva, who lists “shaman” as her current job on LinkedIn, is suspected of igniting other fires. The Fawn Fire, meanwhile, has burned through nearly 3,600 hectares on the outskirts of Redding. The city was hit hard by the Carr Fire in 2018, and while the Fawn Fire isn’t on the same level, it has wrought damage. More than 200 structures have been destroyed or damaged and 30,000 people have been affected by the fire.
It comes amidst a wildfire season from hell in what has been, frankly, a stretch of wildfire seasons from hell. Last year was California’s most destructive fire season, and this year could be on pace to surpass it. Arson played a bizarre role in last year’s wildfire season, with August’s Markley Fire allegedly set to cover up a murder. But arson remains a relatively minor player in causing fires. Instead, other human factors such as faulty electrical infrastructure and unintentional ignition play much large roles. When fires do ignite, decades of human mismanagement, as well as human-caused climate change, can cause blazes to explode.
So, sure a bear piss boil ban may stop one or two fires. But to really reduce fire risk in the West will require new ways of managing forests and reducing emissions.