At one point or another, the survivalist in each of us has probably contemplated how extreme a wilderness situation would need to be for us to drink urine. We even wrote an article about it. Whether it be our own, someone else’s, or that of an animal, drinking piss seems to be a pretty standard benchmark for desperation, a point of no return that would force us to affront how bleak the outlook really is.
It’s hard to tell if yoga instructor, scientist, and self-proclaimed “shaman” Alexandra Souverneva reached such a point in her backcountry excursion that this move became necessary. Either way, the 30-year-old Palo Alto resident claims she stumbled across a puddle of what looked to be water mixed with bear urine during a hike from California to Canada and decided to try filtering it with a teabag to drink. That didn’t work, so she tried boiling it instead. After failed attempts to light the fire, alleging conditions were too wet, she drank the cocktail cold and carried on her way.
Now the woman, a former doctoral candidate at State University of New York’s College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, is facing up to nine years in prison for sparking the Fawn Fire that night, Wednesday, Sept. 22, which has destroyed more than 130 homes and structures and still threatens thousands more in Shasta County. She plead not guilty to the felony charges during her arraignment in the county’s Superior Court on Friday, Sept. 24.
Souverneva got trapped in a brush thicket after her urine-drinking incident and called the nearby fire department for help. She emerged from the woods claiming she was dehydrated and in need of medical attention. When she emptied her pockets and fanny pack at the request of Cal Fire’s responding officer Matt Alexander, CO2 cartridges, a lighter, and green leaves that she claimed to have been smoking that day all fell out. She was arrested and booked for arson to forestland charges at Shasta County Jail.
During her initial court hearing, Souverneva’s attorney said that she made statements to law enforcement that might have indicated mental health issues “or something to do with drug abuse.” She is also being investigated as the source of other fires in the area, one in particular that started the night prior.
Earlier on Sept. 22, employees at the JF Shea Quarry witnessed a woman trespassing on company property and discarding empty CO2 containers that matched the ones Souverneva emptied from her fanny pack. An employee asked the woman to leave, a request she ignored and carried on into the hills. A fire eventually started right near the quarry.
This isn’t Souverneva’s first run-in with the law. She faced criminal charges in 2015, misdemeanor charges in 2017, and was arrested earlier in September for DUI on Interstate 5 near Red Bluff, California, and for criminal trespass a week later along the coast of Oregon.
Souverneva’s bail was set at $150,000 and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 7.
As of Tuesday morning, the Fawn Fire was 65% contained according to Cal Fire, but so far 8,577 acres have gone up in smoke. Fire personnel told residents of the area that the source of the blaze was likely arson, not a natural disaster.
The community appears both infuriated and shocked. The Mount Shasta Neighborhood Watch Facebook group is full of angry commentary from aghast residents, with some humor scattered throughout. When one commenter asked how exactly one collects bear urine, another answered with a pun: “She could piss off a bear,” the comment said. “She’s proven she can piss off tens of thousands of people who live here.”