Woman visits home destroyed by wildfire

Emily Scheidemann speaks with CNN's Dan Simon amidst the rubble of her house that was lost in California's largest wildfire.

Posted: Aug 9, 2018 1:51 PM
Updated: Aug 9, 2018 2:01 PM

The man accused of starting a Southern California blaze that forced the evacuation of 20,000 residents sent a text to a volunteer fire chief two weeks ago saying, "The place is going to burn," the chief said Thursday.

The Holy Fire started Monday in the Cleveland National Forest's Holy Jim Canyon and has so far destroyed a dozen structures, according to fire authorities.

Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Milligan, 71, says he's known the arson suspect, Forrest Gordon Clark, for decades and has long warned that he posed a danger to the community.

"I've been trying for years to get someone to pay attention and nobody has really had the opportunity to do that until now," he said.

Milligan said he was so wary of Clark that he avoided altogether going to the area of the remote Orange County canyon where the 51-year-old Clark lives, he said. Nonetheless, Clark came to his home two weeks ago to return items he said he had "borrowed" from the fire department, he said.

"I said 'I want nothing to do with you, Forrest. Just go,'" Milligan said. "He was being gentlemanly in the beginning and turned and then swore at me and turned and left and was quoting the Bible. Later, he came back and told me what a jerk I was and everyone was after him."

The next morning, Milligan said, he got a mysterious text from an unknown number: "911 call sheriff." Milligan called back and though the reception was poor in the canyon, he recognized Clark's voice, he said. Later came another expletive-laden text that ended with the ominous warning: "The place is going to burn just like you planned."

"I had no idea what he meant," Milligan said, adding that Clark sent emails to other people in which he talked about burning something.

"Remember when Gandalf said, 'If there is a dragon in the neighborhood, include it in your plans?'" Milligan asked, paraphrasing the wizard in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit."

"He was the dragon."

Clark denied involvement?

Clark is being held at the Orange County Jail on suspicion of two counts of felony arson, a count of felony threat to terrorize and misdemeanor resisting arrest, the national forest said via Twitter.

He is being held on $1 million bail and was expected to make a court appearance Thursday.

The charges being leveled against Clark carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, said Susan Schroeder of the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

"Arson is a terrible crime that destroys dreams," she said in a press conference.

Witness statements, physical evidence and burn patterns connect Clark to the fire, said Shane Sherwood with the Orange County Fire Authority.

Before he was arrested, Clark told a freelance 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.

'The Holy Hell Fire'

The Holy Fire continues burning across Orange and Riverside counties, two of the state's most populous, and as of Thursday morning had scorched more than 9,600 acres -- an almost 50% increase from the night before. It remains only 5% contained, according to the national forest's Twitter feed.

"Firefighters continue to battle the blaze around the clock," the national forest tweet said. "We expect favorable weather conditions this weekend to help these efforts."

Schools have been closed in Menifee, Perris and Lake Elsinore.

With temperatures soaring past 100 degrees, an excessive heat warning has been issued for the fire area.

Although it's not the largest fire burning in the state, there are growing concerns about how it could affect residential communities, including Lake Elsinore. Some small communities in Riverside County are under mandatory evacuation orders affecting about 7,000 residential structures, according to authorities.

"We know this district burns, but it should never burn because of an intentional act," Spitzer said. "This shouldn't be called the Holy Jim Fire; this should be called the Holy Hell Fire."

Residents are scared and fleeing their homes, he said.

"They're leaving property behind. They're putting everything they can in the back of their cars as quickly as possible."

Fire officials warned residents to heed evacuation orders.

"Even if you're miles away, you want to be prepared if you're near the fire area or in an environment that can burn," said Thanh Nguyen with the SoCal Team One Fire Management Team, who suggested having a packed bag ready to go.

Top three largest fires in California

Firefighters in California are battling 15 large fires.

The largest fire in California history is the Mendocino Complex Fire, which consists of the Ranch and River fires -- in Northern California. That blaze had burned burned more than 304,000 acres and injured two firefighters as of Thursday morning.

The second biggest fire is the Carr Fire in Shasta County, also in Northern California. The deadly fire has been burning for more than two weeks and consumed 177,450 acres as of Thursday morning. It has killed eight people, including three firefighters, and destroyed almost 1,100 homes.

The third largest is the Ferguson Fire, near Yosemite National Park, incinerating more than 95,000 acres. The fire has lasted more than three weeks and killed two people.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 515504

Reported Deaths: 10296
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34999558
DeSoto33360432
Hinds32743643
Jackson24906392
Rankin22565405
Lee16455245
Madison14954283
Jones14158248
Forrest13834260
Lauderdale12311323
Lowndes11357193
Lamar10693140
Pearl River9748244
Lafayette8868143
Hancock7849132
Washington7559169
Oktibbeha7229138
Monroe7068179
Pontotoc7033110
Warren6885178
Panola6791135
Neshoba6744210
Marshall6707142
Bolivar6468151
Union643598
Pike5942157
Alcorn5921107
Lincoln5540136
George510680
Prentiss508285
Tippah495683
Itawamba4884107
Scott478999
Tate4777117
Adams4776125
Leflore4749144
Copiah458195
Yazoo458092
Simpson4566117
Wayne443472
Covington434895
Sunflower4319106
Marion4295112
Coahoma4244110
Leake414191
Newton396182
Tishomingo386894
Grenada3789109
Stone366166
Jasper341266
Attala340490
Chickasaw318367
Winston318392
Clay312978
Clarke301695
Calhoun286850
Holmes272889
Smith270552
Yalobusha244947
Tallahatchie232353
Greene225149
Walthall222166
Lawrence220242
Perry214556
Amite210357
Webster206548
Noxubee188843
Montgomery182157
Carroll175441
Jefferson Davis174343
Tunica163539
Benton153139
Kemper145441
Choctaw137027
Claiborne134839
Humphreys132239
Franklin126530
Quitman107828
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson97134
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 847659

Reported Deaths: 16172
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1163752005
Mobile743371381
Madison53434738
Shelby38413371
Baldwin38171589
Tuscaloosa36131643
Montgomery34571782
Lee25664264
Calhoun22622519
Morgan22527408
Etowah20059520
Marshall18821318
Houston17769426
St. Clair16946359
Limestone16192220
Cullman16140305
Elmore15948295
Lauderdale15055307
Talladega14244302
DeKalb13061271
Walker12138380
Blount10765193
Autauga10545157
Jackson10204195
Coffee9435192
Colbert9363210
Dale9038192
Tallapoosa7283202
Russell710165
Chilton7078170
Covington6967197
Escambia6962144
Franklin6364108
Chambers5795142
Marion5435130
Dallas5302210
Pike5128109
Clarke485686
Lawrence4845130
Winston4785110
Geneva4650136
Bibb435495
Barbour370180
Butler3444101
Marengo342793
Monroe338366
Randolph337767
Pickens334790
Fayette331485
Henry321066
Cherokee319964
Hale318889
Crenshaw261678
Washington256852
Cleburne255460
Lamar253555
Clay252069
Macon245767
Conecuh193562
Coosa185847
Wilcox178338
Lowndes178268
Bullock152745
Perry141840
Sumter139741
Greene130345
Choctaw94328
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