A woman douses water from a hose around her home as her neighbor's home burns during a wildfire in Escondido, California, May 15, 2014.
A woman douses water from a hose around her home as her neighbor's home burns during a wildfire in Escondido, California, May 15, 2014.
A woman douses water from a hose around her home as her neighbor’s home burns during a wildfire in Escondido, California, May 15, 2014.

A man was charged with setting one of nearly a dozen wildfires that have destroyed or damaged dozens of homes and burned nearly 11,000 hectares of brush land near the southern California city of San Diego, but most of the blazes seemed to be dying down.

The two largest fires are on military bases: the 6,100-hectare Las Pulgas fire at Camp Pendleton and the 2,600-hectare Tomahawk fire at an adjacent naval weapons station.

Thousands of suburban San Diego residents forced to flee the wildfires threatening their communities have been gradually allowed to return home as firefighters gain ground against the swarm of blazes burning in and around California’s second-largest city.

Meanwhile, investigators continued to seek the causes of the conflagrations that destroyed at least eight homes and an 18-unit condominium complex, emptied neighborhoods and spread fields of flame, smoke and ash that dirtied the air as far north as Los Angeles County.

Alberto Serrato, 57, pleaded not guilty Friday to an arson charge in connection with one of the smaller fires, a 42.5-hectare blaze in suburban Oceanside that started 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 onto smoldering bushes, which flamed up. He has not been connected to any other fire, Sierra said.

Two teenagers were also arrested Thursday after police said they started at least two brush fires in San Diego’s Escondido area.

The conflagrations marked an intense, early start to California’s wildfire season.

As of Thursday, for the first time this century, the entire state is in a severe drought – or worse. The three worst levels of drought are severe, extreme and exceptional and 100% of California is now in one of those three categories.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.

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