[show=FirecrackerClassics size=large]Former UC Riverside professor John Haire has been charged with starting at least four wildfires last month in El Dorado County. According to the El Dorado County District Attorney, Haire allegedly got inside his property on April 1, 2019. When he left, the buildings were on fire.
Presently, Haire is being held on $1 million bail and remains in the El Dorado County Jail. He faces up to 80 years in prison.
It’s an irony of sorts that prosecutors are accusing Haire of starting wildfires when he spent seven years teaching fire science — an adjunct teaching position that, though vacant, was offered to him after he told his professors that he intended to retire. According to the Wall Street Journal, he was feeling burned out and was tired of working under budgetary constraints.
Haire is not the first professor to be accused of starting a wildfire. Last year, University of Massachusetts professor William Pogue was also charged with starting a wildfire after a friend came over for a game of dice. That same year, Christian Miller — a professor of law at Pepperdine University — was indicted on federal charges after allegedly igniting a wildfire in a forest near Chatsworth, California.
There’s obviously a high-degree of difficulty when trying to prove that a professor intentionally started a wildfire. One side could decide that, despite the lack of evidence, the professor knowingly started the fire, while the other could say he could have fallen asleep drunk or made a stupid mistake.
Still, these charges serve to bolster the narrative that academics are callous and callous in their behavior, a perception that has sadly become part of the mindset of university administrators and graduate school administrators. Let’s be honest, these people are no dummy.
Higher education is full of people who start wildfires — they’re academics; they’re highly intelligent. Hopefully Haire’s case, and the professor who’s currently in jail for allegedly starting a forest fire while out having a few drinks, will serve as a lesson to the rest of us, and to the rest of those working in academia: Jeez, don’t even think about lighting something on fire, damn it!