LOS ANGELES - A 57 year-old man was charged Friday with starting one of the several fires tearing across southern California that has killed at least one person, local police said.
The man, identified as Alberto Serrato, was allegedly seen stoking the flames of a small fire in the town of Oceanside on Wednesday. He pleaded not guilty to arson charges, Lieutenant Val Saadat of the city's police department said.
Serrato, who was arrested after he tried to flee, faces up to seven years in prison if found guilty of starting the fire that destroyed some five square miles of land.
Firefighters late Friday battled blazes caused by nine active fires that have seen thousands of people evacuated over the past three days.
According to a spokesman for the seaside town of Carlsbad, weekend weather conditions are favorable for controlling the fires, with higher humidity and winds at around 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour).
Carlsbad firefighters found a badly burned body in a transient camp engulfed by raging wildfires late Thursday, the only death to have been reported so far.
Meanwhile strong seasonal Santa Ana winds whipped up so-called "firenados" -- columns of rapidly rotating flames -- at the height of the crisis, which saw thousands of firefighters battling the blazes.
One of the worst hit areas was San Marcos, 15 miles inland from Carlsbad, which is north of the far south-western US city of San Diego.
On Friday, the fire there had more than doubled in size overnight to more than 3,000 acres.
But cooling temperatures meant firefighters were more hopeful of bringing that blaze and others under control.
California and other western US states are routinely hit with wildfires during the summer and fall, but blazes have occurred earlier in the year in recent times.
So many blazes in mid-May is rare and coincides with a number of decades-old records for mid-May temperatures having been broken or equaled.
Man charged with arson amid raging California fires