Mental evaluation ordered for arson suspect in California Holy Fire after outbursts in court

1 year 9 months 1 week ago Friday, August 17 2018 Aug 17, 2018 Friday, August 17, 2018 7:14:03 PM CDT August 17, 2018 in News
By: Amir Vera and Alexandra Meeks, CNN

    (CNN) -- A judge has ordered a mental evaluation for the man accused of starting the Holy Fire that has burned more than 22,000 acres in California.

Judge Kimberly Menninger ordered the evaluation after the arraignment for Forrest Gordon Clark was suspended twice due to him having several outbursts.

"I have a doubt about the competence of this defendant," Menninger said during the hearing in Santa Ana.

Clark was arrested last week on suspicion of setting off the blaze after he allegedly sent a text to a volunteer fire chief two weeks ago saying, "The place is going to burn." He faces two counts of felony arson, one count of felony threat to terrorize, and one count of misdemeanor resisting arrest in connection with starting the Holy Fire in Cleveland National Forest, which has burned 22,896 acres and was 85% contained as of Friday morning.

Clark's outbursts Friday morning weren't the first time he displayed erratic behavior in court. Last week, Clark appeared in an Orange County court and yelled, "It's all a lie!" as a judge read the charges against him.

Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Milligan said last week that he's known Clark for decades and has long warned he posed a danger to the community.

Milligan said he was so wary of the suspect that he avoided going to the area of the remote Orange County canyon where Clark lives.

Milligan said that Clark came to his home some weeks ago to return items he said he had "borrowed" from the fire department.

When he told Clark he wanted nothing to do with him, the suspect swore at him and called him a jerk, Millian said.

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."

Milligan said he did not know what that meant, adding that Clark sent emails to other people in which he talked about burning something.

If found guilty, Clark faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Before his arrest, Clark told a freelance cameraman he was asleep when the fire started and had no idea how it began.

In addition to the Holy Fire, firefighters in California are battling 15 blazes across the state.

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