California woman suspected of being serial arsonist pleads not guilty in Fawn Fire

REDDING, Calif. — The Bay Area woman charged with arson in connection with starting the Fawn Fire earlier this week may be linked to other blazes in California, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said during a press conference Friday morning.

Felony charges were filed this week against Alexandra Andreevna Souverneva, "not only for arson, but also for committing an arson during a state of emergency," which carries a nine-year prison term, Bridgett said.

As the investigation into the Fawn Fire is still underway, Bridgett added, additional charges are likely, based on final damages and outcome of the probe.

The complaint was filed Friday at Shasta County Superior Court.

On Friday afternoon, Souverneva, 30, entered a plea of not guilty during an arraignment before Judge Adam Ryan. The judge said he increased her bail to $150,000 from $100,000 for the felony charge of arson on forest land, plus $25,000 for a related misdemeanor, arson during a state of emergency.

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Arson suspect Alexandra Souverneva looks over papers during her appearance in Shasta County Superior Court on Friday afternoon, Sept. 24, 2021.
Arson suspect Alexandra Souverneva looks over papers during her appearance in Shasta County Superior Court on Friday afternoon, Sept. 24, 2021.

Ryan said he considered the damage the wildfire has so far caused in increasing the bail amount.

During the court appearance, an attorney said Souverneva had made statements to law enforcement that indicated a possible mental health crisis "or something to do with drug abuse."

That attorney said the day after Souverneva was released from the Shasta County Jail on her own recognizance, "she started the Fawn Fire. She is also under suspicion for starting other fires."

Asked whether Souverneva admitted setting the fire, Bridgett said at the press conference: "I can't get into any further facts than we have already revealed at this time."

At the press conference, Bridgett said that Souverneva has also had law enforcement contact related to arson "in our county and other counties as well." Bridgett declined to identify other fires Souverneva might be connected to.

According to a narrative filed by a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection law enforcement officer, a worker at JF Shea Quarry had reported seeing a woman trespassing on the company's property about 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 22.

​​​​She was told she was not allowed on the property, but ignored those warnings and continued walking into the vegetation, according to narrative.

Later that day, Cal Fire firefighters were dispatched to a vegetation fire on the same property.

At about 8 p.m. on Wednesday, while crews worked to extinguish the fire, a Cal Fire captain reported he contacted a woman at the fire's edge. She was "medically cleared" at that time, the narrative said.

Asked why she was in the area, Souverneva said she'd been hiking, attempting to get to Canada, according to the report. Along the way, she said she became thirsty and found a puddle of water containing what she believed to be bear urine, according to the report.

Souverneva said she unsuccessfully tried to filter the water with a tea bag, according to the narrative. Then she attempted to make a fire to boil the water, but found it was "too wet for the fire to start," the report said.

Arson suspect Alexandra Souverneva appears in Shasta County Superior Court on Friday afternoon, Sept. 24, 2021.
Arson suspect Alexandra Souverneva appears in Shasta County Superior Court on Friday afternoon, Sept. 24, 2021.

According to the report, "she said she drank the water anyway and then continued walking uphill from the creek bed," where she saw smoke and airplanes "dropping pink stuff." After that, Souverneva got stuck in the brush and ultimately contacted fire department personnel to assist her, said the report.

Cal Fire officer Matt Alexander said in the court filing that he was able to identify Souverneva by her U.S. passport and a prior police booking photo.

Alexander asked Souverneva to empty her pockets and fanny pack, which contained CO2 cartridges, a cigarette lighter and an item "containing a green, leafy substance she admitted to smoking that day," according to the officer's filing.

At that point, Souverneva was arrested and taken to Shasta County Jail, where she was booked on the arson to forestland charges, according to the court filing.

On the same day the Fawn Fire started, workers at JF Shea Quarry had reported seeing a woman discard two small CO2 cartridges that matched the ones that were later found in Souverneva's fanny pack, Alexander's narrative said.

Evidence into ignition sources gathered during the investigation at the fire scene's origin area led authorities to "believe the suspect was there," Cal Fire Battalion Chief J.T. Zulliger said at the Friday press conference.

Asked where she was on Sept. 21, Souverneva told Alexander that she had been at the Shasta County Jail, was released about 4 p.m. and walked north to an area surrounded by vegetation.

A vegetation fire was reported that night in Shasta Lake, Alexander's report said.

"It is my opinion there is a high possibility she is responsible for the vegetation fire in Shasta Lake City the previous evening," Alexander wrote. "It is my experience that arsonists ... will light multiple fires in a short timeframe."

Follow Michele Chandler on Twitter at @MChandler_RS

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Fawn Fire: Woman suspected of starting Redding fire pleads not guilty