Who Started the Holy Fire? OCFA Report Raises Questions About Volunteer Fire Chief

Forrest Gordon Clark: (Mugshot courtesy Orange County Sheriff’s Department; Buddy Christ courtesy of View Askew Productions)

As Forrest Gordon Clark (aka. White Trash Jesus) prepares for his January 8 re-arraignment for allegedly starting the Holy Fire, it’s increasingly unclear how solid the prosecution’s case is. Although Clark has been held in OC’s Central Men’s Jail on $1 million bail since his August arrest, new evidence from an OC Fire Authority (OCFA) arson investigation claims that Holy Jim Volunteer Fire Chief Mike Milligan is a “viable” suspect.

OC Weekly obtained a copy of the OCFA report, and here’s what it says.

According to the report, between 9:45 AM and 1:29 PM on August 6, the day Frank Romero’s cabin ignited and started the Holy Fire, Milligan was home alone doing chores. The only other residents in Holy Jim that day were Milligan, Clark, and Mr. and Mrs. Shumate, who are not considered suspects.

“Milligan could have driven from his cabin, down toward Clark’s and Romero’s cabins,” the report says. “He could have started the fire to the wood piles outside of Romero’s cabin and then drove up the canyon to see who was home. On the way back down, his white truck could have been the one seen by [Mrs.] Shumate. . . He could have then gone to his cabin and sent an email by 1:29 PM.”

The fire probably started between 1 pm and 1:30 pm, according to the investigation and witnesses. “Milligan could have started the fire based upon the timeframe and the location,” the report says. “It was reasoned his ability to get from his cabin to the area of the start of the fire would have been tight; however, it was within the timeframe.”

Motivation is a key difference between Milligan and Clark as suspects. “While Clark’s actions could be seen as disorganized and impulsive, Milligan’s actions could be seen as organized and calculating,” the report says. “It was clear that Milligan did not like Clark or Frank Romero. It was also confirmed Milligan did not care for many of the residents in the Trabuco Canyon Cabins. I stated the motive could have involved vanity/hero and/or revenge.”

A 1993 restraining order filed against Milligan suggests that the Volunteer Fire Chief is prone to violence. “All throughout our marriage, he was quick to lose his temper and would yell and scream at anyone in sight,” Milligan’s ex-wife Kathleen Cannan asserted in the complaint.  “My husband continuously makes death threats to me and contends that ‘I will always be watching over [your] shoulder’ and says that ‘This is not a promise; this is a threat.’”

“On [July 11, 1993], my husband and I got into a heavy argument.” Cannan claimed in the complaint . “He was yelling and screaming so much that my 14-year-old was very much afraid of him. He became so angry that he raised his fist and hit me in the face across the left side. Stunned, I took my foot and tried to push him away with it. He screamed, ‘In the last two days, you f***ed me over’ in front of the children.”

Whether Milligan or Clark set the fire, both ran the risk of injury to themselves and their cabins, according to the OCFA report. However, according to the report, “Clark ran a bigger risk of harming himself and/or his cabin by starting a fire so close to his own home.” This is because Romero and Clark were immediate neighbors.

Additionally, the report states, “Milligan was educated in fire behavior, having been the Volunteer Fire Chief and a long-term resident in the canyon. Milligan had also participated in firefighting activities of the fires in the canyon in the past.”

It should be noted that this report is only a theory, and at least two other arson reports were conducted by the OC Sheriff’s Department and the US Forestry Service. So far, the OCDA’s office has declined to comment about the specifics of this report, citing White Trash Jesus’ pending prosecution.


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The smoke from the Holy Fire August 8th and 9th.
Photo Liam Blume

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