A man suspected of starting a wildfire that has scorched thousands of acres starting in the Cleveland National Forest has been arrested, authorities announced Wednesday.
The suspect, identified as 51-year-old Forrest Gordon Clark, was booked into jail Tuesday on suspicion of arson and other crimes, according to a tweet from the U.S. Forest Service.
“This is a monster. Who would go out with low humidity, high wind and the highest heat temperatures this time of the year and intentionally set the forest on fire?” said Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer.
The supervisor was among several officials speaking at a Wednesday afternoon news conference where updated information on the Holy Fire was provided, along with more details on the arrest.
The strongest evidence investigators currently have against Clark are witness statements, according to Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Shane Sherwood. He noted, however, that there are none showing he sparked the destructive blaze.
The suspect has not confessed to anything, according to Sherwood.
Investigators also do not believe Clark is responsible for setting any other fires in the county, he said.
Inmate records indicated Clark is being held on $1 million bail at the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana
He was taken into custody after allegedly sending a threatening letter warning that “this place will burn,” the Orange County Register reported Wednesday.
The suspect lived in the area for over a decade, and his cabin was the only one of 14 standing after flames ripped through the area, the Register reported.
Mike Milligan, a volunteer fire chief, told the newspaper Clark sent him threatening emails last week, predicting in one that the Holy Jim community would burn.
He had a long-running feud with a neighbor, as well as other cabin owners in the community, according to Milligan.
On Tuesday, photos taken by the Register showed a shirtless Clark apparently acting erratically in front of deputies, at one point stripping off his lone piece of clothing – a pair of camouflage boxer shorts.
Authorities did not confirm those details from the Register article, emphasizing the ongoing investigation.
Video recorded by a freelance news photographer shortly after the fire started Monday showed Clark being handcuffed as flames burned just feet away, apparently having destroyed a nearby cabin.
He gave his name as Forrest Clark and told the photographer his home had been vandalized by “gangbangers,” saying he had received death threats and had called the Sheriff’s Department to complain “like 30 times.”
“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.”
He also rambled about being hospitalized and medication he’d been given.
“I woke up and my stuff was all on fire,” he said.
In past, Clark has promoted conspiracy theories about Milligan and said he could read minds, the Register reported. A man with his name and birth date was held involuntarily at a treatment center for mental illness in 1996, according to court records cited by the newspaper. And a man with the same name was the subject of a temporary restraining order meant to keep him away from his mother, the Register reported.
It was still not known what sparked the Holy Fire on Monday afternoon, and authorities are investigating its cause. The blaze grew to about 6,200 acres in the Cleveland National Forest on Wednesday afternoon, and triggered new mandatory and voluntary evacuations during the day.
The fire was just 5 percent contained, according to the latest estimates.
“The irony here is not lost on me that his name is Forrest Gordon Clark and he’s literally destroyed our forest,” Spitzer said.
Charges are expected to be filed against Clark after the Orange County District Attorney’s Office receives the case, which is expected Wednesday afternoon, according to DA’s Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder.
She anticipates the following charges to be filed against him: one count of aggravated arson with enhancement that it affected multiple structures; a count of criminal threats; and two counts of resisting an executive officer through force or threats.
The charges carry a possible maximum sentence of life in prison.
“Arson is a terrible crime that destroys dreams,” Schroeder said. “Even when people are not physically hurt, it could destroy that baby blanket that you held, that still smells like your kid. Or that family portrait of your grandparents getting married.”
The suspect is expected to be arraigned Thursday morning.
An arrest has been made in relation to the Holy Fire. Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was booked into Orange County Jail on August 8, 2018, on suspicion of two counts of felony arson, one count of felony threat to terrorize, and one count of misdemeanor resisting arrest. pic.twitter.com/CMspxOIvSk
— Cleveland NF (@ClevelandNF) August 8, 2018