Holy Fire flares up near Santiago Peak

The nearly 23,000-acre Holy Fire that has been burning for three weeks in the Cleveland National Forest but was largely surrounded appeared to flare up again today, scorching about 150 acres and threatening communication towers on Santiago Peak.

The flames erupted shortly after 9 a.m. Fire officials initially said the flare-up occurred within previously established Holy Fire containment lines but managed to cross that line by late Monday morning.

But as of early afternoon, Jake Rodriguez, a U.S. Forest Service public information officer, said, "At this point, we can't say whether it's a flare-up or a new start.''

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito said five air tankers and four helicopters were assigned to the flare-up.

"Their objective will be to protect communication towers, but there are no residential structures threatened,'' Bommarito said.

The Holy Fire, which broke out in the Holy Jim Canyon area on Aug. 6, had been largely contained as of Sunday, although small spots were continuing to smolder along the rim of the burn zone.

Prior to the Monday flare-up, the fire had burned an estimated 22,986 acres in Orange and Riverside counties, and it damaged or destroyed 24 structures, officials said.

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.

From Phil Shuman:

Not a good way to start the week in the Holy Fire burn zone. A major flareup burned (at least) 150 acres but the good news is that it was away from homes and high up in the mountains of the Cleveland National Forest in and around Santiago Peak.

Still, anytime there are flames you are nervous, as I heard from people in and around remote Trabuco Canyon. They were checking their neighborhood phone alerts and looking nervously up into the blue sky, which fortunately by late morning showed only white smoke. Firefighters hit this aggressively and quickly from the air, and everyone was grateful (again) for that.

The Holy Fire had already destroyed almost 20 homes in Riverside and Orange Counties and no one wanted any more devastation. It's a good example of why fire crews stay on top of things even when it's almost 100 percent out, as this one way until this morning.

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