“This place will burn,” says text allegedly sent by man arrested in connection with California fire – The Denver Post

A 51-year-old man who is accused of repeatedly threatening that this place “is going to burn” has been arrested and charged with starting the Holy Fire, causing nearly 10,000 acres to be set ablaze and more than 20,000 people to be placed under evacuation orders at Cleveland National Forest in Southern California.

The arrest was made as more than 18 fires across the state continue to endanger the lives of thousands, including hundreds of firefighters and first responders working around the clock. One, the Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California, is the largest wildfire in California history. Yosemite National Park has been closed “indefinitely” because of smoke from another fire.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued a Spare the Air guideline through Thursday night, saying that children and the elderly should stay inside and minimize direct exposure because of smoke and particle matter from Northern California wildfires.

The Holy Fire, which started in the Holy Jim Canyon area, has been burning in Southern California since Monday, with more than 600 firefighters assigned to fight it. Two firefighters have been treated for heat-related injuries. The fire remains only 5 percent contained.

Mike Milligan, 71, who calls himself a volunteer fire firefighter and chief, said in an interview with The Washington Post that he has been flagging problems with suspect Forrest Gordon Clark for more than three years. He said he alerted the U.S. Forest Service that “you have to do something or he’s going to kill someone or burn this place down.”

Milligan said he received several texts from Clark last week threatening to start a fire.

“In a text, he said this place ‘is going to burn just like we planned,’ ” Milligan said, adding that he reported it to the sheriff’s office and again to the U.S. Forest Service. “Why the hell didn’t they respond? I reported this over and over again.”

Milligan said he’s known Clark for 10 years and has been concerned about his mental health and behavior in the tiny mountainous area, with only 17 recreational cabins at the bottom of a steep cannon.

The area is very rustic and reclusive, and tends to draw “unique and quirky individuals who enjoy living by themselves in a remote area, with limited personal interaction,” said Olivia Walker, public affairs officer for Cleveland National Forest, a local branch of part of U.S. Forest Service.

But it has hiking trails, lush trees and a waterfall, one of the few in Orange County. There’s no country store there and only hikers pass through occasionally, Walker said.

Clark had been involved in volatile disputes with neighbors – on their rented recreation forest cabins – for years and appeared to believe in conspiracy theories, Milligan said. The land is owned by the federal government and the cabins are supposed to be part-time residences.

Walker said she wasn’t aware of Milligan’s reports of concern. Local police did not respond to requests for comment.

“Even if someone here had been aware of odd behavior, there was nothing we could have done unless the person was violent- that would fall under law enforcement,” said Walker. “You can come here and act the fool all you want, but please don’t start fires. It’s a big loss to the area – scenically it’s a big loss.”

“This has really impacted people’s lives and the number of evacuees is only going to keep rising,” Walker said. “Things like heat and wind – the fire has room to grow and burn. We are hoping this weekend we will get cooler weather so the firefighters can really get in there and actively engage it instead of taking a more defensive stance. It’s just very sad.”

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