Suspect in California fire texted chief: ‘This place is going to burn’

Flames from the Holy Fire rise near homes in Lake Elsinore, Calif., on Thursday. Photo by David McNew/EPA-EFE

Aug. 11 (UPI) — The man accused of starting one of California’s wildfires texted the volunteer fire chief two weeks ago with a threat of starting a fire.

The Holy Fire, which started Monday in the Cleveland National Forest’s Holy Jim Canyon, led to the evacuation of 20,000 people and so far has destroyed a dozen structures.

The text sent by suspect Forrest Gordon Clark said, “This place is going to burn,” Mike Milligan, Holy Jim volunteer fire department chief said Thursday.

Milligan said he has known Clark for decades and has long warned he posed a danger to the community.

“I’ve been trying for years to get someone to pay attention and nobody has really had the opportunity to do that until now,” Milligan said.

Milligan said 51-year-old Clark, who lives in a remote area of the Orange County canyon, had come to his home to return some fire equipment he said was borrowed.

“I said, ‘I want nothing to do with you, Forrest. Just go,’ ” Milligan said. “He was being gentlemanly in the beginning, and turned and then swore at me, and turned and left and was quoting the Bible. Later, he came back and told me what a jerk I was and everyone was after him.”

Milligan said he received a text the next morning from an unknown number, “911 call sheriff.”

The chief said he called the number back and recognized Clark’s voice. Later came the text warning that said, “The place is going to burn just like you planned.”

“I had no idea what he meant,” Milligan said.

Clark was arrested and charged with aggravated arson, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest, criminal threats, two counts of resisting and deterring an executive officer, and arson burning multiple structures. He is being held at the Orange County Jail on $1 million bail.

On Thursday, the Holy Fire had burned more than 10,200 acres and moved dangerously close to homes in Riverside County’s Lake Elsinore-Corona area, leading Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for Orange and Riverside counties.

More than 1,000 firefighters are on the front lines of the Holy Fire, a battle also getting help from 10 helicopters and seven fixed-wing aircraft assisted firefighters.The fire was 5 percent contained.

The Holy Fire is one of several other fires across California. More than a dozen wildfires have scorched over 619,000 acres and 2,000 structures, displacing 36,000 people, and leading to several deaths.

On Thursday, an eighth person died in a nearly 180,000-acre wildfire raging in Northern California, state fire officials said.

Cal Fire announced that Andrew Brake, 40, was killed in a single-vehicle crash while assigned to the Carr Fire.

The Mendocino Complex Fire — made of two fires, the Ranch and River fires — is the largest fire in California history. As of Wednesday, the fire had burned through more than 300,000 acres.


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