A man suspected of starting the destructive Holy Fire, which has burned more than 18,000 acres in Orange and Riverside counties, appeared in front of a judge for the first time Friday and yelled out “It’s a lie” when the charges against him were read out loud.
Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, had been charged Thursday with aggravated arson of five or more inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of a forest, criminal threats, as well as two felony counts of resisting and deterring an executive officer. All of the counts are felonies.
He was scheduled to appear in court that day, but refused to leave his cell. He appeared in court in Santa Ana Friday, but his arraignment was again continued to Aug. 17.
At times, Clark paced while in handcuffs and flipped his long hair back.
When the judge described his right to a preliminary hearing, Clark said, “I do not understand, though I will say, ‘yay’ at this time.”
He then thanked the judge, the video showed.
His bail was set at $1 million and Clark offered to pay the amount on the spot.
“May I pay for that?” Clark asked the judge, video from the courtroom showed. “I can handle a million right now, easily.”
The Holy Fire, which started Monday in the Holy Jim community, has scorched more than 18,000 acres in the Cleveland National Forest and is now burning near Lake Elsinore. The blaze remains only 5 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service. More than 21,000 people remain evacuated from about 7,500 homes.
Clark was arrested Tuesday and investigators say there is evidence that he started the blaze. His cabin in the Holy Jim area was the only one of 14 standing after the fire scorched through the neighborhood, the Orange County Register reported.
He allegedly threatened to hurt or kill a person identified in the criminal complaint as “Frank R.”
In an interview with a freelance photographer on Monday, Clark said he had nothing to do with starting the fire, but he also rambled about being targeted by “gangbangers,” and said he’s been hospitalized and given medication. He said he’d called the Sheriff’s Department 30 times, but authorities had deemed him “crazy.”
After reviewing recent posts on Clark’s Facebook page, Brian Levin, director of the Cal State San Bernardino Center on Hate and Extremism, told the Los Angeles Times that the suspect appears to be an “anti-government, anti-establishment conspiracy theorist.”
The social media posts linked to conspiracy theories involving the Sept. 11 terror attacks, last year’s mass shooting as a Las Vegas music festival and “QAnon,” a group that purports a secretive government source who goes by “Q” is leaking proof of President Trump’s election victory being the result of an effort to defeat global criminal bloc involving Hillary Clinton and others.
Levin said Clark’s belief in conspiracies surrounding land use are particular concerning, noting that the suspect’s cabin is located on federal land and not supposed to be inhabited as a primary residence.
Clark could face more charges as the investigation into the blaze continues. He faces life in prison if convicted as charged.
The charges were filed by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the charges against Clark. The story has been updated.