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Arson suspect charged as most blazes die down

Published:Sunday | May 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM

SAN DIEGO (AP):

A man was charged with setting one of nearly a dozen fires that have destroyed homes and raced through nearly 20,000 acres of northern and eastern San Diego County brush land, but most of the blazes seemed to be dying down.

Thousands of fire fighters and fleets of water-dropping military and civilian helicopters planned fresh battles yesterday, including three fires at the Camp Pendleton Marine base.

Investigators continued to seek the causes of the conflagrations 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.

PLED NOT GUILTY

Alberto Serrato, 57, pleaded not guilty last Friday to an arson charge in connection with one of the smaller fires, a 105-acre fire in suburban Oceanside that started last Wednesday and is fully contained.

Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County district attorney's office, said witnesses saw Serrato adding dead brush on to smouldering bushes, which flamed up. He has not been connected to any other fire, Sierra said.

The police said Serrato is 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.