Jury deadlocks in firestorm arson case

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VISTA, Calif. — An ex-con accused of fueling a fire in Oceanside during the May siege of wind-driven blazes in San Diego County will get a chance to have an arson charge dismissed next week, a judge ruled Friday.

Alberto Serrato, 57, is hoping to avoid a retrial on a charge of arson during a state of emergency, which carries a 13-year prison term.

Late Thursday, a jury reported that it was split 7-5 in favor of conviction, prompting Vista Superior Court Judge William Dato to declare a mistrial.

Friday, Dato scheduled a hearing for next Thursday in which Serrato’s lawyer will try to get the charge thrown out. Failing that, a retrial will begin Sept. 2, according to a court clerk.

Serrato is accused of throwing brush on a smoldering fire in the San Luis Rey River bed, causing flames to kick up again. Oceanside police said he was spotted on May 14 allegedly trying to fan the flames and was arrested after a short chase.

The motive for the alleged arson was unclear.

The blaze — dubbed the River Fire — erupted east of College Boulevard in the early afternoon and was contained about 7:45 p.m.

Authorities said one structure was damaged in the 105-acre blaze, one of more than a half-dozen fires that were burning in San Diego County at the time amid a Red Flag alert posted due to heat, winds and low humidity.