Orange County Sheriff's Department

Holy Fire Suspect Pleads Not Guilty to Arson

December 12, 2018 - 2:11 pm

(KNX 1070) - The man accused of setting the Holy Fire that burned 23,000 acres in Orange and Riverside counties last summer has pleaded not guilty to arson and other charges.

Forrest Clark remains in jail on a $1 million bail.  He's due back in court next week for a pretrial hearing.

His arraignment had been suspended after he had several outbursts in court, but a judge ruled that he was mentally competent to assist in his defense late last month.

Clark is facing 10 years to life in prison if convicted of starting the fire.

His attorney, Nicole Parness, insists he is not guilty.  Parness, who is his public defender, told the court it was someone else, one of his neighbors, a volunteer fire chief and it’s even listed in the police report.

But the prosecutor says that’s not true, that the information in the police report was just a theory and there is plenty of evidence against Clark himself.

Clark’s public defender says this case is political and indicated there is bad blood among the people who live in the area where the fire started.

A sheriff's investigator claims Clark made at least five specific threats and allusions to setting fires.  

A neighbor claims on the morning that the fire broke out, Clark allegedly told him he was “crazy” and that it was “perfect” because he could do anything he wants and get away with it.

In his last court appearance, a judge ruled that Clark was in fact mentally competent to stand trial.   

His public defender is Nicole Parness said:

"I am happy about it. As I told you guys earlier, I want the truth. This is a search for the truth and if he's competent and that's the truth, then that's what I want. So, I'm happy about it," she said.

She has been pressing prosecutors to turn over more evidence in the case. She wants to obtain text messages allegedly sent by Clark to his neighbors as well as surveillance video.

Clark has claimed he was asleep when the Holy Fire erupted and has no idea how it began.  A volunteer fire chief claims he’s known Clark for decades and has long thought he posed a danger to the community. He additionally alleges he received a text from Clark before the blaze stating, "this place is going to burn."