SANTA ANA, Calif. >> A man charged with starting a Southern California wildfire that has burned 12 cabins and forced at least 20,000 people from their homes refused to go to court today, delaying his initial court appearance.
The arraignment for Forrest Clark was supposed to be today, but the judge in the case said the suspect refused to go to court. His arraignment was rescheduled for Friday.
Clark, 51, is charged with three counts of arson, resisting arrest and deterring an executive officer. He is being held on $1 million bail and faces life in prison if convicted.
It’s unclear if he has an attorney.
Clark is charged with setting the Holy Fire, which has burned 15 square miles in the Cleveland National Forest since it began Monday.
At least 20,000 residents have had to evacuate their homes because of the blaze, which is just 5 percent contained.
The Orange County Register reported that Clark owns a cabin in the community of Holy Jim, where the fire began, and that his was the only one to survive the flames.
Michael Milligan, chief of the Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Department, told the newspaper that Clark had a decade-long feud with neighbors and sent him threatening emails last week, including one that said, “this place will burn.”
At one point Tuesday, Clark stripped 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, telling them he had been terrorized by gangs and that “they told me they were going to send eight Mexicans, big Mexicans, and they were going to kill me.”
When asked if he knew how the fire started, Clark said he had no idea.
“I was asleep. I had two earplugs in,” he said. “I just woke up, dude.”
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 about Clark on Aug. 2 and tried to find him but couldn’t, Braun said.
She didn’t have further details.
Clark’s arrest marks the second such detention in two weeks. On July 25, 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 faces a life sentence if convicted.