Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, has been charged with felony arson for allegedly starting the Holy Fire that has been ripping through the Orange and Riverside counties.
The blaze started in Cleveland National Forest’s Holy Jim Canyon and has so far destroyed a dozen structures, according to fire authorities.
Holy Jim volunteer fire department chief Mike Milligan, 71, said he has known Mr Clark for decades and has previously warned he posed a danger to the community.
Mr Milligan said: “I’ve been trying for years to get someone to pay attention and nobody has really had the opportunity to do that until now.”
The place is going to burn just like you planned
Text message to fire chief
The fire chief said he was so wary of Mr Clark he avoided altogether going to the area of the remote Orange County canyon where he lives.
But he said Mr Clark visited his home two weeks ago to return items had «borrowed» from the fire department.
Mr Milligan said: «I told him ‘I want nothing to do with you, Forrest. Just go.’
«He was being gentlemanly in the beginning, and turned and then swore at me, and turned and left and was quoting the Bible.
“Later, he came back and told me what a jerk I was and everyone was after him.»
Mr Milligan said he received a text from an unknown number which read: «911 call sheriff.»
He said he called the the number and recognised Mr Clark’s voice.
Mr Milligan then received an expletive-laden text that ended with the ominous warning: «The place is going to burn just like you planned.»
Mr Clark is being held at Orange County Jail on £783,870 ($1million) bail.
He is charged with aggravated arson, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest, criminal threats, two counts of resisting and deterring an executive officer, and arson burning multiple structures.
Susan Schroeder of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said the charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Ms Schroeder said: “Arson is a terrible crime that destroys dreams.”