SANTA ANA, California. – A man accused of starting a Southern California wildfire that has burned 12 cabins and forced at least 20,000 people from their homes and refused to go to the court Thursday, delaying his first appearance.
The charge for Forest Clark was supposed to be on Thursday, but the judge in the case said the defendant refused to go to court. His arrest was moved to Friday.
Clark, 51, is charged with three counts of arson, resisting arrest, and deterring an executive director. He is being held on $ 1 million bail and faces life in prison if convicted.
It is unclear whether he has a lawyer.
Clark is charged with the setting up of the Sacred Fire, which has burned 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) in the Cleveland National Forest since it started Monday.
At least 20,000 inhabitants had to abandon their homes because of the fire, which is just 5 percent contained.
The Orange County Register reported that Clark is in possession of a hut in the community of the Holy Jim, where the fire began, and that his was the only one to survive in the flames.
Michael Milligan, head of the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire department, told the newspaper that Clark had a ten-year-long fight with the neighbors and sent him threatening e-mails from last week, including one that said: “this place will burn.”
At one point Tuesday, Clark naked as investigators questioned him about the fire and a Register photographer snapped pictures.
A man who identified himself as Clark spoke with a freelance video news crew the same day she told him that he had terrorised by gangs and that “they told me that they were planning to send eight Mexicans, big Mexicans, and that they were planning to kill me.”
When asked if he knew how the fire started, Clark said that he had no idea.
“I was asleep. I had two earbuds in,” he said. “I just woke up, man.”
Orange County sheriff’s deputies received a call reporting “erratic behavior” by Clark on July 23 and placed him on a psychiatric hold, said Carrie Braun, a department spokeswoman. Deputies fielded another call on Clark on Aug. 2 and tried to find him, but could not, Braun said.
They wanted no further details.
Clark’s arrest marks the second such detention in two weeks. On 25 July, police arrested Brandon McGlover on suspicion of setting the Cranston Fire in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles. That blaze destroyed five homes.
McGlover also face life in prison if convicted.