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Man acquitted of igniting massive 2018 Southern California wildfire

California Wildfire Arson Trial
Posted at 5:12 PM, Jun 01, 2023

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A man was acquitted Thursday of intentionally setting a fire that spread over 36 square miles (93 square kilometers) and burned more than a dozen cabins in remote Southern California canyons five years ago.

After a monthlong trial, a jury deliberated for a little more than a day before finding Forrest Clark not guilty of three felony counts of arson. Jurors convicted him of one remaining count of making criminal threats against his neighbor, the Orange County Register reported.

The Holy Fire in August 2018 tore through a vast area of Orange and Riverside counties, forcing thousands of people to evacuate. The blaze burned for more than a month.

Prosecutors alleged that Clark had been feuding with and threatening a neighbor and set fire to the man’s cabin, sparking the blaze. Clark’s cabin survived.

Defense attorneys called the fire investigation sloppy and inadequate and argued that the U.S. Forest Service and Orange County Fire Authority failed to prove the blaze was intentionally set or that Clark was at fault.

With no physical evidence directly tying Clark to the start of the fire, prosecutors focused on threats they said he made against his closest neighbor and rants he made to investigators, the Register said.

A pair of independent veteran fire investigation experts hired by the defense argued during the trial that the cause of the fire should have been officially deemed “undetermined” rather than attributed to arson.