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Published: Sunday May 18, 2014 MYT 1:55:02 AM
Updated: Sunday May 18, 2014 MYT 1:56:27 AM

Major Southern California blaze mostly contained, some evacuees return

A U.S. military helicopter drops water on a burning hillside as it helps fight the Cocos Fire in San Marcos, California  May 15, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A U.S. military helicopter drops water on a burning hillside as it helps fight the Cocos Fire in San Marcos, California May 15, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) - Firefighters battling a major wildfire in Southern California surrounded most of the blaze overnight, a fire official said on Saturday as some evacuated residents returned in a region where dozens of homes were destroyed by a series of fires.

In all, nearly a dozen conflagrations scorched about 20,000 acres (8,093 hectares) of drought-parched brush across San Diego County this past week. As firefighters had several of the blazes under control, a man was charged on Friday with one count of arson in connection with one of the smaller fires.

With cool, moist air coming in from the Pacific coast, firefighters gained the upper hand overnight against the so-called Cocos Fire, one of the region's fiercest, that threatened the suburban community of San Marcos north of San Diego.

By Saturday morning, firefighters had contained 70 percent of the 2,900-acre (1174-hectare), said fire task force spokesman George Land. That marked a significant improvement from the start of Friday, when the blaze was only 10 percent contained.

The Cocos Fire destroyed a dozen houses and another 25 structures at a local spiritualism centre, county officials said in a statement.

The conditions on Saturday are expected to be less windy than earlier in the week, when hot, dry Santa Ana winds drove the flames on their destructive path.

Some residents evacuated from the San Marcos area were allowed to return home late on Friday, San Diego county officials said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how many residents were still unable to return home, but earlier in the week officials said 125,000 people lived in the evacuation zones for all the San Diego County wildfires combined.

A charred body was found on Thursday at a homeless encampment overrun by flames in coastal Carlsbad, although officials said they had yet to confirm the exact cause of death.

The Carlsbad blaze, which scorched 600 acres (243 hectares), left property losses of up to $15 million (8.9 million pounds), gutting eight houses and destroying an apartment building, officials said.

Meanwhile, Alberto Serration was charged on Friday with one count of arson in connection with a small fire this week in the coastal community of Oceanside, said a spokeswoman with the San Diego County District Attorney's Office. Serration faces a maximum of seven years in prison, if convicted.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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