Mental Evaluation Ordered for Holy Fire Suspect After He Exhibits Bizarre Behavior, Rambles in Court

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A judge on Friday ordered a mental evaluation for the man suspected of starting the destructive Holy Fire after the defendant made some rambling, incoherent statements and wouldn't confirm he understood the charges against him.

Forest Clark's arraignment came after two previous attempts were postponed, the first one because he refused to leave his jail cell and the second after he exhibited bizarre behavior in the courtroom.

During his latest court appearance, the 51-year-old again declared his innocence, but it was unclear whether he was even fully aware of the charges against him.

Clark has been charged with a number of felony accounts, including aggravated arson, arson of inhabited property, arson of a forest, criminal threats, and two felony counts of resisting and deterring an executive officer, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

But when prompted by the judge, Clark couldn't confirm an understanding of those charges -- and in fact, he indicated the exact opposite, video from the courtroom showed.

"Do you understand what you're doing in this room right now?" she asked at the beginning of the proceedings.

"Absolutely, I'm in full control," he responded, then proceeded to turn the question around and ask the judge if she knew what she was doing in the courtroom.

The judge responded by asking Clark whether he knew he had been charged with a crime.

"I comprehend it, but I do not understand it," he said.

The court then recessed briefly while the defendant was given a chance to read the charging document.

Later, he began exhibiting erratic behavior and was admonished by someone inside the room when he stood up on a bench.

At one point, he held up a photo of lighthouse and said he was the lighthouse. In other rambling remarks, he said he could transmit live energy and called himself a utility.

He also appeared to become obsessed with a man in the courtroom wearing a red tie, saying that -- because of that particular piece of attire  -- that individual was the only man who could represent him.

After conferring with Clark's counsel, the judge made the decision to suspend the criminal proceedings until they assess whether the defendant is mentally competent to stand trial.

She ordered two doctors - one chosen by each side of the case - to perform an evaluation on Clark.

"The court wants to note, just for clarity, that the defense has adamantly objected to this determination," the judge said.

The suspect won't be due back in court until Oct. 10.

It was exactly one week ago when Clark displayed similarly odd behavior in court, yelling out, "It's a lie" as the judge read the charges. He also told her he could "easily" afford to pay his $1 million bail on the spot.

Clark is accused of sparking the Holy Fire, which erupted in Holy Jim Canyon near the Orange and Riverside County divide on Aug. 6, authorities said.

Amid a sizzling heat wave, the fire spread quickly through dry brush and chaparral in a section of the Cleveland National Forest that last burned some 40 years ago, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

As of Friday morning, the blaze has charred nearly 23,000 acres -- roughly 35 square miles -- and is 85 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

Clark was arrested a day after the fire began and investigators said there is evidence suggesting he was the one who started it.

His cabin in the Holy Jim area was the only one of 14 standing after the fire burned through the community, the Orange County Register reported the day after he was taken into custody.

Fire officials confirmed 12 single-family residences in Orange County were destroyed, as well as an additional six in Riverside County.

Clark allegedly sent threatening electronic correspondences to the chief of the Holy Jim

Volunteer Fire Department in the weeks before the fire ignited, including one message where he predicted the Holy Jim area would burn, according to the Los Angeles Times.

One of those messages, a text, read, "It's all going to burn like you planned," Mike Milligan told the Times.

Clark had been involved in a long-running dispute with a neighbor and other cabin owners in the Trabuco Canyon area, Milligan said in a separate interview with the Register.

The neighbor, who was in the courtroom Friday, told KTLA he lived next door to Clark for 18 years and described that experience as a "nightmare."

On the day the Holy Fire erupted, a man who gave his name as Forrest told a freelance news photographer that his home was vandalized and he had received death threats. The man reported calling the Orange County Sheriff's Department "like 30 times" to complain.

"The sheriff's say I'm crazy," he said. "Look what's happened now. I'm f---ing crazy, great. I'm caught on fire, I'm burned."

His mental fitness has been called into question before, most recently on July 23 -- about two weeks before the Holy Fire broke out -- when the Sheriff's Department placed a 5150 hold on Clark, according to Carrie Braun, a public information officer for the Orange County agency.

Under a 5150 hold, law enforcement can detain a person deemed mentally unstable or otherwise posing a threat to themselves or others for up to 72 hours.

And in 1996, a man with Clark's name and birth date was held involuntarily at a treatment center for mental illness, court records cited by the Register showed.

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