By Daniel Ritz
More than 20,000 residents are under mandatory evacuation orders after a Southern California fire, which authorities say was set intentionally, spread to more than 6,000 acres this week.
The Holy Fire started Monday, Aug. 6, in the Cleveland National Forest and has so far destroyed 12 structures, according to fire authorities on Aug. 9. The Holy Fire has burned 6,200 acres and is 5 percent contained. Schools have been closed in Menifee, Perris and Lake Elsinore.
A man has been arrested in connection with the fire that is wreaking havoc near the border between Orange and Riverside counties, among the most populous counties in California.
Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was being held at the Orange County jail on Wednesday on suspicion of two counts of felony arson, a count of felony threat to terrorize and a misdemeanor resisting arrest charge, the Cleveland National Forest said via Twitter.
He is being held on $1 million bail and expected in court Thursday.
The charges being leveled could carry a life sentence, said Susan Schroeder of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Witness statements, physical evidence and burn patterns connected the man to the fire, said Shane Sherwood with the Orange County Fire Authority.
Before he was arrested, Clark allegedly told a cameraman he was asleep when the fire started and had no idea how it began.
“Who would go out with low humidity, and high wind and highest heat temperatures this time of year and intentionally set the forest on fire?” asked Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer during Wednesday’s press conference.
Fire officials warned residents to heed evacuation orders.
An excessive heat warning for the fire area has been issued with temperatures higher than 100 degrees.
The American Red Cross set up an evacuation center at the Rancho Santa Margarita Bell Tower at 22232 El Paseo as well as at San Juan Hills High School, 29211 Stallion Ridge, for people affected by the fire.