LAKE ELSINORE (AP) — Police arrested a man in connection with a Southern California wildfire that has burned 12 cabins and led to new evacuation orders on Wednesday as flames grew nearer to several small communities.
Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was booked on suspicion of felony arson, making threats and resisting arrest. It’s unclear whether he has an attorney.
Clark was being held on a $1 million bail and is set to appear in court Thursday.
He was arrested in connection with the Holy Fire, which has burned nearly 10 square miles (26 square kilometers) in the Santa Ana Mountains and forced a new round of evacuations as it continued inching closer to homes.
“This is a monster,” Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said at a news conference. “Who would go out with low humidity and high wind and the highest heat temperatures this time of the year and intentionally set the forest on fire?”
If convicted, Clark would face life in prison, said Susan Schroeder, chief of staff at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
“Arson’s a terrible crime that destroys dreams,” Schroeder said. “Even when people are not physically hurt, it can destroy that baby blanket that you held that still smells like your kid or that family portrait of your grandparents getting married.”
The Orange County Register reported that Clark owns a cabin in the area where the fire began, known as Holy Jim, and has had a decade-long feud with his neighbors, according to Chief Michael Milligan with the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department.
Milligan told the newspaper that Clark sent him threatening emails last week, including one that said, “this place will burn.”
Clark ran through the Holy Jim community screaming last week, has claimed he can read minds and at one point on Tuesday, stripped naked as investigators questioned him about the fire and a Register photographer snapped photos, the newspaper said.
Clark’s home was the only one to survive the 14-cabin community, the newspaper reported.
Clark’s arrest marks the second such detention in two weeks. On July 25, police arrested Brandon McGlover on suspicion of setting the Cranston Fire in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles. That blaze destroyed five homes.
McGlover also faces a life sentence if convicted.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, authorities ordered the evacuation of seven small communities in the foothills of the Santa Ana mountains as the fire burned steadily down drainages toward homes, said Brian Rhodes, chief of the Cleveland National Forest.
“Those drainages feed into the communities down there at the foothills, and we have folks down there that are getting positioned to deal with that fire as it reaches down to the valley floor,” he said.
Riverside County Fire Chief Geoff Pemberton urged residents to heed the evacuation orders.
“We ask the public to please listen to our warnings,” he said. “When we issue those we take those seriously.”
Spitzer, the county supervisor, said residents are scared.
“They’re fleeing their homes, they’re leaving property behind, they’re putting everything they can in the back of their cars as quickly as possible,” he said. “This is not the Holy Jim fire. This is the holy hell fire.”