Man pleads not guilty to arson in Southern California wildfire

Man pleads not guilty to arson in Southern California wildfire
A home smolders on Mount Whitney Road in Escondido as the Cocos fire continues to burn. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A 57-year-old Oceanside man pleaded not guilty Friday to an arson charge stemming from a 105-acre fire.

Alberto Serrato is charged with throwing brush on a fire that had already been set in the San Luis Rey River area, a possible felony.
Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis said Serrato was not charged with starting the fire and was not suspected of any involvement in the larger fires that have struck northern San Diego County this week.

Still, Dumanis said the maximum penalty could be seven years in prison.


In Escondido, Isaiah Silva, 19, and a 17-year-old were arrested Thursday night on suspicion of setting two small fires. Police do not suspect them of any involvement in the larger fires.

Investigators have concluded that the Bernardo fire that struck near Rancho Bernardo on Tuesday was caused by a spark from a backhoe during a construction project. The other fires are still under investigation, and authorities have asked the public for assistance.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said a man was arrested after he drove into the driveway of a home where the owners had been evacuated because of the Cocos fire. The man had an outstanding warrant for burglary, she said.

Firefighters were getting the upper hand Friday on several of the fires as a new one broke out at Camp Pendleton, forcing more evacuations.

The 25-acre fire was sparked in the Talega area of the base, prompting evacuation orders for all personnel in the 62 area, San Onofre housing areas and School of Infantry West.

Firefighters had no containment on the latest blaze as they continued to battle other wildfires on base. Brush fires have scorched nearly 20,000 acres in San Diego County, nearly double the last assessment, officials announced Friday afternoon.

Eleven brush fires in the area have burned 19,826 acres since they first started Tuesday, San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.

The fires prompted thousands of evacuation orders, a massive firefighting response involving agencies from throughout Southern California and an emergency declaration by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Six of the fires, including the destructive Poinsettia fire in Carlsbad, have been fully contained, officials announced at an afternoon news conference.

About 1,000 firefighters, however, continue to battle the Cocos fire in San Marcos, which was just 10% contained and has so far destroyed three homes.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Deputy Chief Kelly Zombro told reporters that firefighters were making progress in San Marcos under more favorable weather conditions.
Meanwhile, the 8,000-acre Las Pulgas fire at Camp Pendleton continued to send out plumes of smoke visible from Los Angeles, but there was no indication the fire would move beyond the base or damage structures.

The 6,300-acre Tomahawk fire at the adjacent Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook also continued to rage.

Jacob said that though the worst appeared to have passed, “the difficult days for San Diegans are not over.”

The fire season, she added, has only just begun.

"It is not a matter of if we are going to have another fire, it's a matter of when," Jacob said.