San Diego County fires: Man charged with arson for Oceanside fire

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Some residents in San Marcos returned to find their homes severely damaged by a wildfire that swept through the area.

A man has been charged with setting one of nearly a dozen wildfires that swept through San Diego County this week, officials said.

Alberto Serrato, 57, was arrested Thursday in connection with a 105-acre fire in Oceanside - one of the smaller fires, which started Wednesday and has been fully contained.

The San Diego County District Attorney's Office says witnesses saw Serrato adding brush to the flames near homes but he was not seen starting the fire. Serrato pleaded not guilty Friday to arson. He has not been connected to any other fire.

Firefighters aided by calmer winds are making progress battling the numerous wildfires burning across the county.

Ten fires charred more than 15 square miles and caused more than $20 million in damage by Friday, burning at least eight houses, an 18-unit apartment complex and two businesses. The hardest-hit areas were in San Marcos and Carlsbad, a suburb that lifted evacuation orders late Thursday.

An 11th fire was reported in the Talega area of Camp Pendleton at 11:24 a.m. on Friday. It burned about 800 acres and was 25 percent contained by the evening. Personnel in the area were ordered to evacuate, and non-essential personnel were sent home at noon, according to Camp Pendleton officials.

Thousands of residents in the Del Dios Corridor and Mt. Israel area of San Marcos were allowed back in their homes early Friday morning after a wildfire destroyed several homes in the area Wednesday. The evacuation notice remained in effect for some parts of San Marcos.

An evacuation shelter was set up at Mission Hills High School. San Marcos Middle School and Escondido High School also reopened as temporary evacuation sites. Small animals are welcome at Mission Hills and Escondido High Schools. Large animals can be taken to Cloverdale Ranch at 2460 Cloverdale Road in Escondido.

The "Cocos Fire" in San Marcos grew to 2,520 acres and was 50 percent contained as of 7:45 p.m. Friday. It was one of 10 brush fires to break out in the county since Tuesday during red-flag conditions that included strong Santa Ana winds, triple-digit temperatures and dry ground cover. The fire continued to burn actively with strong winds Friday.

Investigators said eight of the 10 fires are suspicious in nature because they erupted about an hour apart from each other.

On Thursday night, Escondido police arrested a young man and a teenage boy for allegedly setting patches of vegetation ablaze in the South Escondido area. A witness who spotted the pair called police about 6:30 p.m. Thursday and extinguished the flames.

Isaiah David Silva, 19, of Escondido, and an unidentified 17-year-old were arrested on suspicion of setting two small brush fires in the area. One of the fires was set in Kit Carson Park and another small fire was set nearby on South Escondido Boulevard.

Authorities have yet to find evidence linking the two to any of the large wildfires.


Carlsbad fire fully contained; 1 dead

Dozens of homes and business were destroyed as a 400-acre fire devoured parts of the city of Carlsbad.

The "Poinsettia Fire" erupted in the area of Poinsettia Lane and Alicante Road at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. It was fully contained at 9 a.m. Friday.

Evacuation orders were lifted Thursday evening for all areas associated with the Poinsettia Fire. More than 15,000 homes and business were ordered to evacuate on Wednesday.

Firefighters found a badly burned body at a transient encampment during a hot spot check in Carlsbad Thursday. The body was discovered in the area of Ambrosia Lane and Calliandra Road. The victim's name and cause of death were under investigation Friday.

According to an assessment by the city, eight single-family houses, an 18-unit apartment complex, two commercial buildings and a modular building were destroyed by the fire. Three single-family homes sustained minor damage, and an 18-unit apartment building incurred considerable damage.

Commercial vehicles, an outbuilding and two vehicles were also damaged in the fire. Large power outages were also reported. The wildfires shut down schools and amusement parks, including Legoland, which reopened Thursday.

Monetary losses were estimated at $22.5 million.

Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall thanked first responders, saying "although there was major structural damage done here in Carlsbad, we literally saved hundreds of homes."

Anyone with information about the origin of the fire or suspicious activity or persons who may be involved with starting the fires should call (760) 602-7599 or email PoinsettiaFire@carlsbadca.gov.

Camp Pendleton base firefighter injured in brush fire

A Camp Pendleton Fire Department firefighter was also treated for heat exhaustion while battling a square-mile blaze on the Marine base.

The fast-moving "Las Pulgas Fire" broke out for unknown reasons at 3:15 p.m. Thursday near a sewage plant in the Las Pulgas area and led to hundreds of evacuations. The blaze grew to 15,000 acres Friday and was 40 percent contained, base officials said.

Evacuation orders for Camp Las Pulgas, Camp Margarita, Camp Las Flores and 32 Area remain in effect. Basilone Road from Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton to Camp Horno, as well as Las Pulgas Road remain closed. Ammunition Road aboard Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook also remains closed.

The second fire being fought at Camp Pendleton was dubbed the "Tomahawk Fire" and erupted around 9:45 a.m. Wednesday. It has scorched about 6,500 acres on the eastern outskirts of the base. Officials said it was 65 percent contained Friday.

The American Red Cross on Friday opened a shelter at San Clemente High School for those evacuated due to the fire at Camp Pendleton.

Bernardo Fire near containment

The first big wildfire to erupt in San Diego County was 90 percent contained Friday. The "Bernardo Fire" torched nearly 1,600 acres of brush west of Black Mountain between 11 a.m. Tuesday and early Wednesday, according to Cal Fire.

No structures were lost. All evacuation orders were lifted Tuesday night. Three people suffered minor injuries. The fire was later determined to have been sparked by power equipment from a construction project.

Firefighters were expected to get relief on Friday. The forecast called for temperatures to peak around 90 and lighter winds. A cool-down was forecast for the weekend.

The Associated Press and CNS contributed to this report.
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