Holy Fire Expected to be Fully Contained Sunday

LAKE ELSINORE (CNS) - The 23,000-acre Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Forest was 95 percent contained today, with full containment predicted Sunday.

According to U.S. Forest Service rangers, small spot fires continue to smolder in rugged terrain along the rim of the burn zone, where crews have been working to establish lines since the alleged arson blaze erupted on the afternoon of Aug. 6 in the Holy Jim Canyon area, on the Orange County side of the national preserve.

USFS officials had expected the blaze to be completely encircled five days ago, but the containment date is now Aug. 26.

The fire has blackened an estimated 22,986 acres in Orange and Riverside counties, as well as damaged or destroyed 24 structures, officials said.

The remaining crews assigned to the blaze were digging and filling in pits made by bulldozers to starve the flames of fuel.

Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, is charged with aggravated arson resulting in damage to at least five inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest and criminal threats in connection with the blaze.

Clark has a cabin in Holy Jim Canyon, and arson investigators allegedly uncovered evidence indicating the fire was ignited in the immediate vicinity of his property, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

A volunteer fireman, Mike Milligan, who has a cabin near Clark's, told reporters the defendant has had a long-running feud with a neighbor and other cabin owners. In the days prior to the fire, Clark ran through the area screaming and sent Milligan a message warning that “this place will burn,” he said.

Clark is being held in lieu of $1 million bail and is undergoing a court-ordered evaluation for mental illness.

The Holy Fire bore down on Lake Elsinore and surrounding communities for six days, prompting mandatory evacuations and road closures. The Ortega (74) Highway between San Juan Capistrano and Lake Elsinore was closed from Aug. 8 to Aug. 14 due to the monster blaze.

Several firefighters were injured battling the flames, though none of the injuries were life-threatening.

Along with USFS crews, Cal Fire, Riverside County, Corona, San Bernardino County and personnel from other agencies deployed to the brusher, aided by multiple air tankers and water-dropping helicopters.

The OCFA asked anyone who may have been in the Holy Jim Canyon area on Aug. 6 around the time the fire began to contact investigators at (714) 573- 6700 or (714) 573-6709.

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