A massive forest fire that began in the Holy Jim Canyon of Southern California has ravaged more than 18,000 acres and threatened about 7,000 homes since Monday. Nearly 20,000 people have had to be evacuated so far, and it's unlikely they'll be able to return home soon: Only about 5 percent of the blaze has been contained.
On Thursday, police arrested 51-year-old Forrest Clark, the man they believe intentionally started the fire after he allegedly sent a text to a volunteer firefighter two weeks ago saying, "This place is going to burn." And although it's unclear why Clark may have started the fire, his Facebook page shows that he traded in a wide range of conspiracy theories, some of which have influenced others to act violently in the past.
"The guy was like a canary in a coal mine," JJ McNab, a fellow at George Washington University's Program on Extremism, wrote on Twitter. "He was always one of the first true believers to glom onto whatever conspiracy theory was new and sexy that month."
Some of the conspiracies Clark posted about were merely goofy, like the Illuminati, ancient aliens, and Flat Earthism. Most recently, he seemed to have bought into Qanon, which some suspect to be a troll on Boomer conservatives. Meanwhile, others were directly related to forest fires and some did veer into extremist territory. For instance, his Facebook activity suggests he was obsessed with the idea of secret pedophile rings—the same idea that led a man to bring an assault rifle to a Washington, DC, pizza parlor back in 2016. He also identified as a sovereign citizen, like the man who killed four people at a Waffle House this past April.
Clark's apparent delusional belief system also seemed to have extended into his own wellbeing: Despite posting about having skin cancer, he also seem preoccupied with pseudo-scientific "cures" like beets.
The fire that Clark allegedly started is smaller than both the Carr Fire and the Mendocino Complex Fire, which are both in Northern California. However, it's fierce and has spread across county lines. Even amid a notable season that's seen more than a dozen flare-ups throughout the state, authorities are calling the so-called Holy Fire a "monster."
"This shouldn’t be called the Holy Jim fire, it should be called the Holy Hell fire," Orange County supervisor Todd Spitzer said during a press conference on Wednesday.
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