California arson suspect charged, most blazes dying down

By Julie Watson and Elliot Spagat

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, May 17 2014 11:44 a.m. MDT

The region had become a tinder box in recent days because of conditions not normally seen until late summer — extremely dry weather, 50-mph Santa Ana winds and temperatures in the 90s. On Friday, though, slightly cooler weather and calming winds aided the 2,600 firefighters, and thousands of people began returning home.

Six fires were entirely surrounded and several others were reduced to smoldering hotspots.

Eight of the San Diego County blazes popped up between late morning and sundown on Wednesday, raising suspicions that some had been set.

In Carlsbad, investigators finished examining the burn site across the street from a park and focused on interviewing people who called a hotline that was set up to report any suspicious activity.

"Do people have suspicions? Yes," said police Capt. Neil Gallucci, noting there has been no lightning that could explain the blazes. "But can we confirm them? The answer is no."

Police in Escondido arrested two people, ages 17 and 19, for investigation of arson in connection with two small fires that were extinguished within minutes. But they found no evidence linking the suspects to the 10 biggest wildfires.

The Bernardo fire, the first of the North County blazes to break out, burned 1,548 acres and was 95 percent contained Friday night.

A backhoe operator at a development site accidentally started the fire while digging trenches, San Diego fire officials said Friday.

Investigators will visit each burn site and go down a list to determine a cause, marking what they know and don't know.

Spagat reported from Escondido, California.

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