Man Arrested As Holy Fire Grows; Firefighting Resources Stretched Thin

Man Arrested As Holy Fire Grows; Firefighting Resources Stretched Thin

NEAR CORONA (CBSLA) – A man has been arrested in connection with the Holy Fire burning in the Cleveland National Forest southwest of Corona, which grew overnight Tuesday, as weary firefighters take on another day of scorching hot temperatures and low humidity.

As of Wednesday morning, Holy Fire had burned 4,129 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.

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Forrest Gordon Clark following his arrest on Aug. 7, 2018. (Photo via OCSD)

The fire was pushing northeast into Horsethief Canyon, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Black heavy smoke had filled the skies above Horse Thief Canyon, with huge flames shooting up from the ridges early Wednesday morning. Contributing to its rapid spread is that it is burning in an area that has not seen a fire since about 1980.

The fire is burning in both Orange and Riverside counties.

Ash had fallen in several surrounding communities, including in Corona and Lake Elsinore, where people living in a neighborhood on Palm View Street watched as flames continued inching toward Riverside County.

You can see the ash raining down in this #LakeElsinore neighborhood on Palm View Street as the #HolyFire continues to burn this way into Riverside County. @CBSLA #KCAL9

— Nicole Comstock (@ComstockNEWS) August 8, 2018

On Tuesday night, a 51-year-old man who lives in a cabin in Holy Jim Canyon was arrested in connection with the fire. Forrest Gordon Clark was taken into custody of O.C. Sheriff’s deputies after he allegedly sent an email 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 reports.

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.

He is being held on $1 million bail, according to jail records.

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Orange County Sheriff’s deputies talk to Forrest Gordon Clark just prior to his arrest. (Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register)

Trabuco and Holy Jim canyons were under mandatory evacuation orders, as well as the Blue Jay and El Cariso campgrounds. All campgrounds in the Trabuco Ranger District were closed and forest road closures were in effect for Trabuco Creek, Maple Springs, North Main Divide, Bedford and Indian Truck Trail.

Horse Thief Canyon and Glen Eden, located in the Temescal Valley between Corona and Lake Elsinore, were under a voluntary evacuation warning, along with the communities of Sycamore Creek, McVicker and Rice.

Also under a voluntary evacuation was Highway 74, west from Lookout Restaurant to the Nichols Institute and all connecting roads in the communities of Rancho Capistrano, El Cariso Village and Blue Jay.

Because of the resources needed to battle the Mendocino Complex burning in Northern California – now the largest wildfire in state history – along with several others burning across the state, only 444 personnel were assigned to the Holy Fire as of Wednesday morning. However, at a morning briefing, officials said they are hoping to double that number soon. Ten water-dropping helicopters and seven fixed-wing aircraft were being used in the aerial attack.

“Fire will continue to spread southeast and north with only limited spread to the west,” the Cleveland National Forest said in a statement Tuesday night. “The lack of resources for direct attack will allow the fire to spread into new areas, and align for strong head-fire runs and the potential for an “Elsinore” down slope event.

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The Holy Fire burns on a hillside near Horsethief Canyon. Aug. 8, 2018. (U.S. Forest Service)

The Holy Fire broke out before 1:20 p.m. Monday near Holy Jim and Trabuco Canyon roads, on the west side of the Santa Ana Mountains. The blaze quickly spread amid steep terrain, thick brush and scorching temperatures.

Holy Jim Canyon resident Tilson Schumate told CBS2 Monday that he and his wife barely made it out of their cabin before the area was overtaken by flames.

“We were in the cabin for only five minutes, but in that five minutes, the flames had already come up over the hill… so those cabins are gone for sure,” Schumate said.

A care and reception center was established at Temescal Canyon High School on El Toro Road in Lake Elsinore. Small animals can be evacuated to Animal Friends of the Valley at 33751 Mission Trail in Wildomar.

Firefighters with the Orange County Fire Authority, USFS, Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire Department are among the agencies battling the blaze.

Residents can call 714-573-6200 and 714-573-6202 for information on the Holy Fire.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)