Ma Sparker

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, January 1996

Ma Sparker
By Bill Donahue

The story seemed almost biblical: 60-year-old Charmian Glassman so loved her prodigal, forest-fire-fighting son, Jason Robertson, that she ventured into the dry, manzanita-specked hills near her Mount Shasta home and reportedly set the forest ablaze, just to give him a chance to show off his heroic stuff--11 different times.

The rampage apparently started because Robertson, a 21-year-old U.S. Forest Service firefighter who wears his shoelaces loose and his baseball cap backward, had given his mother new cause to worry. All last winter, it seems, he played host to a delinquent gun-collector who shot bullets into the side of his mobile home.

Alas, Glassman was a mediocre arsonist. In a one-month spree last summer, she flicked a lighter at small mounds of pine needles. The fires didn't really take off, and in the end she charred only five acres. "She never set a fire more than ten feet from her car," says Mark Reina of the California Department of Forestry. "It's almost as if she didn't want to get her shoes dirty."

CDF and U.S. Forest Service officials arrested Glassman after a six-week investigation. A hearing is scheduled, and Glassman could wind up serving time in prison. As for Robertson, he quit the Forest Service the day his mom was arrested.

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