LAKE ELSINORE (CBSLA) — Who is Forrest Gordon Clark, the suspect in the Holy Fire near Lake Elsinore?
Neighbors don’t seem to agree on who Clark is.
Some say he is a quiet, nice and religious man. Others say he is angry and unstable.
He was arrested in connection with the Holy Fire burning in the Cleveland National Forest southwest of Corona, which grew overnight Tuesday.
By Wednesday afternoon, the Holy Fire had grown to 6,200 acres from Holy Jim Canyon to the canyons above Lake Elsinore and was only 5 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service. At least 12 structures have been destroyed. Many more structures are threatened.
On Tuesday night, 51-year-old Clark — who lives in a cabin in Holy Jim Canyon — was arrested in connection with the fire. Clark was taken into custody of O.C. Sheriff’s deputies after he allegedly sent a text last week which read “this place will burn,” according to the Orange County Register.
Of the 14 cabins in Clark’s area, his is the only one that was not destroyed, the Register reported.
He was booked on two counts of felony arson, one count of felony threat to terrorize and one count of misdemeanor resisting arrest. He was scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.
“I’m upset with him right now. I’m really upset — he took everything I had,” says neighbor Melodi Schumate.
She and husband Tilson had to be airlifted out to safety.
She believes Clark could be responsible.
“I have to say I’m not surprised,” she told CBS2/KCAL9. “However, I feel terrible this has gone down — there’s a lot of canyon politics unfortunately and I don’t want to say too much. Because I don’t really know everything. But there was some problems there.”
Clark, a construction worker by trade, is being held on $1 million bail.
At a briefing Wednesday, officials said the 6,000 acre fire was started near Clark’s remote Orange County cabin.
Witness statements and physical evidence link him to the fire, reports CBS2’s Michele Gile.
The Schumates have know Clark for years. Melodi says neighbors are talking about a threat he made recently about burning the canyon.
Deputies had been at Clark’s cabin questioning him since the fire started Monday. The said he talked incoherently about being chased, about his water pressure and finally about the fire. When officials met with Clark, they said he greeted them holding a machete.
Just hours after the fire started, a photographer tried to talk to Clark about what was happening near his cabin.
He said he had no idea how the fire started.
“I was asleep,” he said.
But Holy Jim volunteer fire chief Mike Milligan — who has known Clark for 20 years — was not surprised to hear Clark was taken into custody.
“For years, for years, the forest service and the sheriff have dealt with Forrest and his problems,” Milligan said.
According to court records, Clark has never been charged with a serious crime. But Milligan says Clark often feuded with neighbors. Milligan says he contacted law enforcement after Clark allegedly made threatening remarks just a couple of weeks ago.
“Sent them the texts he had sent me,” Milligan says, “the last line of his text was ‘it’s all going to burn just like you planned.’ I’m not sure what he meant when he said planned.”
If convicted of all charges, Clark could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.