Fawn Fire arson suspect will undergo psychiatric exam before returning to court

Mike Chapman Michele Chandler
Redding Record Searchlight

Criminal proceedings against Fawn Fire arson suspect Alexandra Souverneva were suspended Tuesday while she undergoes a mental competence evaluation.

Souverneva, 30, of Palo Alto appeared with her new attorney, Gregg Cohen, in Shasta County Superior Court during a disposition hearing before Judge Adam Ryan.

Souverneva remains in custody after pleading not guilty Sept. 24 to charges of starting the 8,578-acre Fawn Fire in the area of Fawndale and Radcliff roads about five miles northeast of Shasta Lake. The Shasta County Public Defender's Office previously represented Souverneva.

Gregg Cohen

"I'm not going to be able to comment nor will I comment on the facts on the case, but I can say I have met with (Souverneva) extensively," Cohen said.

Cohen is well-known around the North State after serving as a former deputy district attorney for Shasta and Tehama counties before spending 20 years as the Tehama County district attorney. He became a criminal defense attorney in 2019.

Cohen asked that proceedings be suspended so his client can be evaluated. Souverneva appeared in court in padded clothing and Cohen said there's mental health concerns while she's in jail.

Fawn Fire arson suspect Alexandra Souverneva enters Shasta County Superior Court on Tuesday morning, Oct. 5, 2021. Court proceedings were suspended while she undergoes a mental competence evalation.

"While she's in custody in the jail they make that determination on what she should be wearing and why," Cohen said.

Souverneva's next court date was set for Nov. 16 at which time a psychiatric report is expected to be completed "to determine whether or not she is competent to move forward with the case," Cohen said.

"We declared a doubt as to her competence today. The judge agreed and has continued the case," Cohen said. "Right now criminal proceedings are suspended. She does need to see and meet with one or two psychiatrists," Cohen said.

A worker at J.F. Shea Quarry in Mountain Gate had reported seeing a woman trespassing on the company's property the morning the Fawn Fire started, according to a narrative filed by a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection law enforcement officer.

She ignored warnings of not being allowed on the property and continued walking into the trees and brush, according to the narrative. 

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.

According to the report, "She said she drank the water anyway and then continued walking uphill from the creekbed," 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, the report says.

Cal Fire officer Matt 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 forestland arson charges, according to the court filing. She also faces an enhancement for allegedly committing an arson during a state of emergency, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett has said.

Firefighters reported Oct. 2 the Fawn Fire was fully contained after destroying 185 structures and injuring three firefighters about 10 miles northeast of Redding.


Mike Chapman is an award-winning reporter and photographer for the Record Searchlight in Redding, Calif. His newspaper career spans Yreka and Eureka in Northern California and Bellingham, Wash. Support local journalism by subscribing today.