Holy Fire Scorches 6,200 Acres in Cleveland National Forest as Arrest Is Made, Mandatory Evacuations Ordered

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After authorities arrested a man on Wednesday for allegedly starting a blaze that continued to scorch thousands of acres in the Cleveland National Forest, new mandatory evacuations were issued for residents in the Trabuco Canyon area.

The Holy Fire had burned through 6,200 acres and was just 5 percent contained when officials arrested Forrest Gordon Clark, a 51-year-old man who lived in the area.

He was booked into Orange County Jail on suspicion of two felony counts of arson, one felony count of threat to terrorize and one misdemeanor count of resisting arrest, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Not long after announcing Clark's arrest, officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for the communities of McVickers, Rice Canyon, Horsethief, Glen Eden, El Cariso Village, Sycamore, Painted Canyon and Rancho Capistrano. Authorities later clarified that Painted Hills was not under an evacuation order.

Residents in nearby areas had already been told to leave their homes, some of them only given voluntary evacuation warnings. Orders as of Wednesday covered more than 7,000 homes and affected about 20,500 residents.

Sheriff deputies talk to Forrest Gordon Clark, a Holy Jim Canyon resident whose home was the only surviving structure in in his 14 cabin area. (Credit: Mindy Schauer / Orange County Register via Getty Images)
Sheriff deputies talk to Forrest Gordon Clark, a Holy Jim Canyon resident whose home was the only surviving structure in his 14 cabin area. (Credit: Mindy Schauer / Orange County Register via Getty Images)

The Holy Fire quickly spread after erupting on Monday afternoon near the Riverside County line, forcing officials to shortly issue evacuation orders for Holy Jim and Trabuco canyons. On Tuesday evening, the Orange County Fire Authority specifically said that the order applied to recreation residence tracts.

The flames spread to about 4,129 acres as they moved toward the Horsethief Canyon area on Wednesday.

Firefighters projected the blaze would continue to grow on its southern, eastern and northern flanks with limited growth toward the west, forest officials said.

In addition to Trabuco and Holy Jim canyons, officials issued evacuation orders for the Blue Jay and Falcon Group campgrounds.

They also called for voluntary evacuations in the following areas: Highway 74 west from the Lookout Roadhouse to the Nichols Institute and Sycamore Creek.

Orange County evacuees could go to the San Juan Hills High School in San Juan Capistrano, while Riverside County residents can head to Temescal Canyon High School in Lake Elsinore.

As of Tuesday night, there were no evacuation orders issued for Sycamore Creek or Lake Elsinore, the Orange County Fire Authority and Cleveland National Forest announced.

However, the Lake Elsinore Unified School District announced it was closing the following schools until further notice "out of an abundance of caution": Luiseño School, Rice Canyon Elementary, Terra Cotta Middle School and Withrow Elementary.

The Menifee Union School District was also shutting down until further notice, a public information officer said.

Unhealthy air quality could affect residents across Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, with winds coming from the west and southwest before southerly winds overnight.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory effective through Thursday morning for the following communities:

Orange County: north and central O.C., north and central coastal O.C., Saddleback Valley, Capistrano Valley
Riverside County: Corona/Norco, metropolitan Riverside, Perris Valley, Lake Elsinore, Temecula Valley, Hemet/San Jacinto Valley, Banning Pass
San Bernardino County: northwest, southwest, central and east San Bernardino Valley; central, east and west San Bernardino mountains

Authorities expected the fire to continue spreading to the north and southeast, according to InciWeb, the federal wildfire information website.

Crews have been battling the flames amid triple digit temperatures, but Tuesday evening's update indicated that conditions could improve with slight cooling and some increase in humidity.

The area had not burned in about 40 years, according to a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson. At least one structure has been destroyed, the agency said Tuesday morning.

Nearly 400 personnel were responding to the blaze. The cause of the fire remained under investigation.

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