Wildfires threaten thousands of homes

CNN's Stephanie Elam reports from Lake Elsinore, California, where wildfires continue to threaten around 17,000 homes and buildings.

Posted: Aug 10, 2018 12:13 PM
Updated: Aug 10, 2018 12:13 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. 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 an 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 $1 million bail and is expected to make a court appearance Friday.

According to a criminal complaint filed Thursday, he is charged with aggravated arson, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest, criminal threats, two counts of resisting and deterring an executive officer, and arson burning multiple structures.

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 night had scorched more than 10,236 acres. 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 more than 305,152 acres, destroyed 119 homes and 110 other structures, and injured two firefighters as of Thursday night. It is 52% contained.

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 178,752 acres as of Thursday night. It is 49% contained. 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: 498560

Reported Deaths: 9939
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34150535
DeSoto31916399
Hinds31878624
Jackson24352379
Rankin21928388
Lee15450235
Madison14547279
Jones13789241
Forrest13428250
Lauderdale11944315
Lowndes10966185
Lamar10491135
Pearl River9454237
Lafayette8462138
Hancock7703126
Washington7371157
Oktibbeha7118130
Monroe6740174
Warren6656176
Pontotoc6620102
Neshoba6613206
Panola6466131
Marshall6398132
Bolivar6268146
Union596794
Pike5794152
Alcorn5646101
Lincoln5421134
George494979
Scott471198
Tippah466081
Prentiss464881
Leflore4631144
Itawamba4605105
Adams4577119
Tate4553109
Copiah445692
Simpson4423116
Yazoo440386
Wayne438572
Covington427894
Marion4222107
Sunflower4217104
Coahoma4127104
Leake407687
Newton381079
Grenada3700108
Stone358764
Tishomingo358091
Attala330589
Jasper328565
Winston313491
Clay306775
Chickasaw297867
Clarke290694
Calhoun278145
Holmes267287
Smith262450
Yalobusha232847
Tallahatchie225851
Walthall217763
Greene216048
Lawrence211440
Perry204855
Amite204055
Webster201845
Noxubee185940
Montgomery179356
Jefferson Davis170942
Carroll168238
Tunica159039
Benton147538
Kemper141341
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131637
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106328
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 814363

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1141131910
Mobile722941323
Madison52048686
Shelby37315341
Baldwin37098540
Tuscaloosa34973599
Montgomery33996725
Lee23158240
Calhoun22168470
Morgan20675372
Etowah19770496
Marshall18258300
Houston17314405
St. Clair15924337
Cullman15333290
Limestone15239198
Elmore15095284
Lauderdale14163294
Talladega13728272
DeKalb12575259
Walker11096366
Blount10104174
Autauga9904146
Jackson9795180
Coffee9182189
Dale8866181
Colbert8794200
Tallapoosa7045195
Escambia6747127
Covington6688179
Chilton6595160
Russell626358
Franklin5936105
Chambers5562142
Marion4960126
Dallas4897199
Clarke473482
Pike4721105
Geneva4564126
Winston4478101
Lawrence4269117
Bibb421786
Barbour356075
Marengo334189
Monroe330662
Randolph327763
Butler324894
Pickens314082
Henry311265
Hale309487
Cherokee300557
Fayette291079
Washington251151
Cleburne247058
Crenshaw243775
Clay240867
Macon230762
Lamar218146
Conecuh185752
Coosa179038
Lowndes174161
Wilcox167838
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125844
Choctaw87027
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 66°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
66° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 66°
Oxford
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 55°
Starkville
Partly Cloudy
57° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 57°
We have had some nice and dry days for the last several days. We will change things just a bit over the next few days, as we will see some scattered showers and thunderstorms back into our weather forecast by later Wednesday and into Thursday.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather