San Diego: Calmer winds helped firefighters gain ground yesterday against fires that have destroyed homes and raced through nearly 20,000 acres of northern and eastern San Diego County brush land.
Authorities charged a man for adding fuel to one of the nearly dozen blazes.
A new fire at the Camp Pendleton Marine base left some evacuations in place.
Thousands of firefighters and fleets of water-dropping military and civilian helicopters planned fresh battles yesterday as investigators continued to seek the causes of the fires that burned at least eight homes and an 18-unit condominium complex, emptied neighbourhoods and spread fields of flame, smoke and ash that dirtied the air in neighbouring Orange County and as far north as Los Angeles County.
Alberto Serrato, 57, pleaded not guilty on Friday to an arson charge in connection with one of the smaller fires, a 105-acre fire in suburban Oceanside that started on Wednesday and is now fully contained.
Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County district attorney’s office, said witnesses saw Serrato adding dead brush to smouldering bushes, which flamed up. He has not been connected to any other fire, Sierra said.
Oceanside police Lieutenant Sean Marshand said Serrato was believed to have added fuel to the fire but not to have started it.
“Unfortunately we don’t have the guy that we really want,” he said. Serrato remained jailed on Friday; Sierra said she didn’t know whether he had an attorney.
All together, the wildfires about 30 miles north of San Diego have caused more than $20m in damage. Three fires continued to burn at Pendleton: a 15,000-acre blaze that began on Thursday was 40pc contained, and a new fire on Friday that quickly grew to 800 acres was 25pc surrounded that night.