A 51-year-old man who is accused of making the threat, "This place will burn," for over three years has been arrested and charged with starting the so-called "Holy Fire," causing nearly 10,000 acres to burn and 20,000 people to be placed under evacuation orders at Cleveland National Forest in Southern California.
The arrest was made as more than a dozen blazes across the state continue to endanger the lives of thousands, including hundreds of firefighters and first responders working around the clock. One, the Mendocino Complex Fire, is the largest wildfire in California history. Yosemite National Park has been closed "indefinitely" because of smoke from another fire.
The Holy Fire, which started started in the Holy Jim Canyon area, has been burning since Monday, with more than 600 firefighters assigned to fight it. Two firefighters have been treated for heat-related injuries.
Volunteer Fire Chief Mike Milligan said in a cell phone interview with The Washington Post that he has been flagging problems with Cox for over three years. He alerted the U.S. Forest Service that, "You have to do something or he's gonna kill someone or burn this place down."
Milligan received several texts from suspect Forrest Gordon Clark last week threatening to start a fire.
"In a text he said place 'is going to burn just like we planned'," Milligan said in an interview, saying he reported it to the sheriff's office and again to the U.S. Forest Service. "Why the hell didn't they respond. I reported this over and over again."
The U.S. Forest Service could not be immediately reached for comment.
Clark was arrested late Tuesday on two counts of felony arson, one count of felony threat to terrorize and one count of misdemeanor resisting arrest, said Susan Schroeder, spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney's office.
Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said, "This shouldn't be called the Holy Jim Fire, this should be called the Holy Hell Fire."
"This is a monster. 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 Spitzer during a news conference Wednesday, where he cited excessive heat warnings. "We know this district burns, but it should never burn because of an intentional act."
Shane Sherwood with the Orange County Fire Authority told reporters that he could not comment on that reported email, saying the investigation was ongoing. But he said the evidence gathered led investigators to believe the fire was "intentional."
He said they were still working through the evidence to determine how it was started.
Sherwood said no witnesses have come forward saying they saw Clark start the fire, but the area of origin is around his residence.
Clark, who is being held on $1 million bond, is slated to appear in court Thursday, records show. Before he was arrested, Clark told a cameraman he was asleep and had no clue how it started. It was not clear yet who Clark's legal counsel is.
Milligan told the Orange County Register that Cox had "run through the community screaming" and claimed he could read minds. On Tuesday, he stripped off his camouflage underwear in public, the paper reported.
The paper also said a man with the same name and birth date was held involuntarily in 1996 at a treatment center for mental illness. In 2012, the news report said, Mary Masayo Clark was granted a temporary restraining order against her son, a man named Forrest Clark, whose birth date is the same as the man arrested in connection with the fire.
According to the Orange County Register, she said he had demanded money from her several times. "There is no peace in my home when he is here," she wrote in court documents.