The man suspected of intentionally setting the Holy Fire that now threatens thousands of homes in southern California has made a bizarre outburst in court, claiming he could ‘easily’ pay his $1 million bail.
Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was due to be arraigned on Orange County on Friday, but a judge rescheduled the hearing for August 17 after he could not restrain himself during the appearance.
Clark is charged with one felony count each of aggravated arson damaging at least five inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest and criminal threats, as well as two misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest.
He stripped naked on Tuesday as authorities closed in to question him about the blaze, which started on Monday near his cabin in the Cleveland National Forrest about 50 miles south of Los Angeles.
With critical Red Flag weather conditions, the Holy Fire has quickly grown to more than 28 square miles, and some 21,000 residents are now under evacuation orders as the flames advance on Orange and Riverside counties.
Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, (left in court and right in mugshot) was due to be arraigned on Orange County on Friday, but a judge rescheduled the hearing for August 17 after he could not restrain himself during the appearance
King Bass, 6, left, sits and watches the Holy Fire burn from on top of his parents’ car as his sister Princess, 5, rests her head on his shoulder Thursday night in Lake Elsinore, California
A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as the Holy Fire burns near homes on Thursday in Lake Elsinore, California
The burn area of the Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Forest on the county line between Orange and Riverside is seen above
On Friday, Clark initially refused to face the judge as his attorney requested that media coverage of the hearing be suspended out of fears of retaliation against Clark’s family.
‘I have to protect the lives of my brother, mother and siblings!’ Clark shouted, facing the rear wall of the holding area clad in a jail-issued orange jumpsuit.
However, the judge denied the defense request, and cameras with CBS Los Angeles continued to record the proceedings.
Clark then whirled and stared intently at the cameras as his attorney protested that she had not recieved police reports in the case and requested a continuance in the hearing.
‘It’s a lie!’ declared Clark when the judge read the charges against him, to which the judge advised him that the charges were merely allegations.
Asked by the judge if he understood his rights in requesting the continuance, Clark responded ‘I comprehend but I do not understand’.
Clark (left and right) attended Orangewood Academy, a Seventh-Day Adventist preparatory school in Orange County, and went on to perform missionary work, according to his Facebook profile
A firefighter watches the flames approach while battling the Holy Fire in Corona, California on Friday
Firefighters battle the Holy Fire burning in the Cleveland National Forest in Lake Elsinore, California on Friday
Brittany Bowen (right) helps her neighbor Alision Scullin (left) move her cats to a safer location near the Holy Fire in Lake Elsinore, California, southeast of Los Angeles, on Friday
Residents flee a neighborhood with their belongings after a spot fire broke out at the Holy Fire in Lake Elsinore, California
In a court outburst at the mention of bail, which has been set at $1 million, Clark shouted ‘I can handle a million right now easily.’
Clark attended Orangewood Academy, a Seventh-Day Adventist preparatory school in Orange County, and went on to perform missionary work, according to his Facebook profile.
The profile lists his occupation as ‘child of the most High God’.
Clark was living in a cabin on Trabuco Canyon Road when the Holy Fire began nearby amid Red Flag conditions on Monday. It reportedly consumed all nearby cabins except for his own.
As the fire grew, Clark gave an unusual video interview to a stringer from the Los Angles news service OnScene.
‘I’ve been terrorized by MS-13 and 38th Street, they told me they were going to send eight Mexicans, big Mexicans, and they were gonna kill me,’ he said over the cameraman’s request to speak about the fire
This map shows the major wildfires currently blazing across the state of California, with the Holy Fire to the south
‘I need to get it out on TV so if I die at least you know who did it,’ Clark continued.
Asked if he knew how the fire started, Clark replied: ‘I have no idea, I was asleep, I had two earplugs in. I’ve been up for 20 some odd days!’
‘I just woke up dude and I got burned! I woke up and my stuff was all on fire!’ he continued.
Clark said that he had ADHD and had been put on ‘downers’ which had the opposite of their intended effect.
Frustrated, the cameraman told Clark that the interview was not usable. ‘I absolutely am gonna cut it all out,’ the cameraman said. ‘I can’t send that to the TV station.’
When Clark was taken into custody on Tuesday, he first stripped down to camouflage underwear before going entirely nude, photos from the scene show.
Neighbors said he Clark threatened firefighters with a sword while they were battling the fire.
Clark reportedly has a history of erratic behavior. Last month, he was placed on a psychiatric hold.
Volunteer Fire Chief Mike Milligan, who also has a cabin in the area, says every resident in the canyon is afraid of him, and claims that Clark sent him a texy message saying ‘it’s all going to burn.’
Clark faces life in prison if convicted on the top charges against him.
Sheriff deputies talk to a Forest Gordon Clark, a 10-year Holy Jim Canyon resident whose home was the only surviving structure in in his 14 cabin area. Neighbors say he acts erratic and threatened firefighters with a sword
Clark stripped down to camouflage underwear as deputies tried to question him about the Holy Fire on Tuesday
Clark then removed the underwear and was seen remonstrating with deputies fully in the nude before his arrest
More than 1,200 firefighters are now battling the Holy Fire, with the mandatory evacuation area covering 7,449 single family homes. The fire is just 5 per cent contained.
On Friday, some hillsides were allowed to burn under the watchful eyes of firefighters as a way to reduce fuel and make it harder for flames to jump roadways into communities if winds pick up again.
Aircraft dropped fire retardant on flames and homes as people ignoring evacuation orders used garden hoses to spray down their properties when the blaze flared Thursday evening, propelled by 20-mph gusts.
Shannon Hicks, 59, defied an evacuation order and watched in awe as firefighters faced down a storm of flames that descended toward her street in the city of Lake Elsinore.
‘It looked like a tornado. The flames were just twirling and twirling,’ she said. ‘I thought, ‘There’s no way they’re saving my house.’ But somehow they did.’
Residents watch the Holy Fire burning in the Cleveland National Forest in Lake Elsinore, California on Thursday
A firefighting aircraft drops fire retardant as the Holy Fire burns near homes on Friday in Lake Elsinore, California
A truck and a street are covered in fire retardant dropped by an air tanker as crews battle a wildfire on Friday in Lake Elsinore
One resident wasn’t so lucky. Standing in the ashes of his burned home on Friday, Dan Pritchett told KNBC-TV that he and his brother stayed until a wall of flames roared near.
‘I turned to him and said, ‘Let’s go,” Pritchett said. ‘(There were) 100-foot flames right on the crest of the hill, right in front of me.’
The Holy Fire, named for Holy Jim Canyon, is now one of nearly 20 wildfires that are ravaging California amid unusually hot and dry weather conditions.
In northern California, crews turned a corner in their battle against Northern California’s Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest-ever in recorded state history, getting it 60 percent contained. The fire more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Sacramento has destroyed more than 100 homes and blackened an area about the size of Los Angeles.
In northern California, a firefighter battling the Mendocino Complex is seen taking a rest on Tuesday
The devastation of the Carr Fire is seen near Redding in another northern California wildfire on Friday
Near the Northern California city of Redding, the year’s deadliest fire was nearly half-surrounded and was burning into remote and rugged forest land. The Carr Fire has burned more than 1,000 homes.
The fires all grew explosively in the past two weeks as winds whipped the flames through forest and rural areas full of timber and brush that is bone-dry from years of drought and a summer of record-breaking heat.
Air quality has been another problem. A smoky haze stretches from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range to Sacramento and hovers over the San Francisco Bay Area, with most major population centers in between enduring air quality that’s considered dangerous for many residents.
After almost a month of wildfires, the National Weather Service warned that satellite images showed ‘widespread smoke this morning from the Western US fires drifting northeastward across the northern Rockies into western and central Canada and then southward over the northern Plains.’