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 12:53 PM
Updated: Aug 10, 2018 1:13 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.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 749097

Reported Deaths: 13745
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1030271775
Lake554211006
Allen41613691
St. Joseph36933564
Hamilton36505416
Elkhart29347459
Tippecanoe22849225
Vanderburgh22540400
Porter19313325
Johnson18386387
Hendricks17583317
Clark13190193
Madison13111344
Vigo12602253
LaPorte12385221
Monroe12152175
Delaware10947197
Howard10250225
Kosciusko9609119
Hancock8541144
Bartholomew8158157
Warrick7854156
Floyd7763180
Grant7227179
Wayne7154201
Boone6911103
Morgan6735141
Dubois6211118
Marshall6205116
Cass5989108
Henry5893108
Dearborn588878
Noble579786
Jackson508374
Shelby500697
Lawrence4727121
Gibson444093
Harrison440473
Clinton439855
DeKalb438585
Montgomery433890
Whitley405642
Huntington402181
Steuben398659
Miami392568
Jasper386254
Knox375690
Putnam371860
Wabash360583
Ripley346470
Adams344955
Jefferson335685
White329753
Daviess3028100
Wells294881
Decatur289992
Greene286385
Fayette284664
Posey273735
LaGrange272872
Scott269855
Clay265448
Randolph244683
Washington244534
Jennings235149
Spencer234131
Starke227558
Fountain218347
Sullivan213943
Owen210858
Fulton201542
Jay200832
Carroll193420
Orange188055
Perry186937
Rush175626
Vermillion173544
Franklin170135
Tipton165746
Parke148916
Pike137934
Blackford136032
Pulaski120047
Newton112636
Brown103943
Crawford102316
Benton100814
Martin91415
Warren83515
Switzerland8098
Union72810
Ohio57811
Unassigned0421

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1106796

Reported Deaths: 20091
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1284601459
Cuyahoga1155792204
Hamilton812751245
Montgomery524631040
Summit48327999
Lucas43289817
Butler38886603
Stark33275929
Lorain25631502
Warren24554303
Mahoning22327601
Lake21133385
Clermont20095252
Delaware18815135
Licking16643222
Fairfield16552204
Trumbull16520479
Medina15592270
Greene15246246
Clark14216306
Wood13276197
Portage13226214
Allen11904239
Richland11596211
Miami10832223
Wayne9112222
Columbiana9016230
Muskingum8889135
Pickaway8646122
Marion8633138
Tuscarawas8633247
Erie8049164
Ashtabula7136179
Hancock6995131
Ross6932161
Geauga6831150
Scioto6525104
Belmont6148174
Union583549
Lawrence5722102
Jefferson5669158
Huron5539122
Sandusky5433125
Darke5414129
Seneca5342126
Washington5307109
Athens523360
Auglaize501587
Mercer487385
Shelby476195
Knox4567112
Madison443665
Ashland435097
Putnam4333103
Fulton431871
Defiance431798
Crawford4031110
Brown401861
Logan387177
Preble3847103
Clinton378166
Ottawa372581
Highland359165
Williams347578
Champaign343558
Guernsey324153
Jackson317254
Perry297150
Morrow291240
Fayette285450
Hardin274865
Henry273267
Holmes2697101
Coshocton268359
Van Wert247264
Adams242856
Pike242735
Gallia240450
Wyandot234556
Hocking220062
Carroll196648
Paulding176342
Meigs148240
Monroe136144
Noble135739
Harrison113638
Morgan109624
Vinton85417
Unassigned03
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Van Wert
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Mostly sunny skies dominate on Monday. A weak cold front may cause a handful of showers to pop up after noon.
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