SAN DIEGO -- A man who is accused of setting his family's home on fire pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of murder and arson causing great bodily injury.
Wilber Romero, 26, faces life imprisonment if convicted of all charges.
The fire in the 3100 block of Clay Avenue erupted shortly before 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 13.
"Neighbors told 911 dispatchers a family lived in the home and (that) they could hear screaming inside," Lt. Martha Sainz said.
Arriving firefighters found the home fully enveloped in flames.
"Due to the intense fire conditions, it took a little while for us to get it knocked down and get in there and get those victims out," San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Battalion Chief Steve Salaz told reporters.
Deputy District Attorney Rikole Santin said Romero's family members "frantically attempted to escape" the flames, but only Romero's 16-year-old brother, Angel, was able to evade serious injury by fleeing the home through a window. He's since been released from a hospital, while the defendant's 23-year- old sister, Wendy, was pulled from the home by witnesses and is currently recovering in a burn unit, Santin said.
One member of the family, 44-year-old Jose Antonio Romero, died in the charred residence. His wife, Nicalasa "Nico" Maya-Romero, 46, and their 21-year- old daughter, Iris Romero, died in a hospital over the next several days.
The couple's other two children, a 23-year-old daughter and 16-year- old son, remain hospitalized.
Wilber Romero escaped the fire unharmed, Sainz said.
Authorities did not immediately disclose a suspected motive for the alleged act of homicidal arson.
Romero is due back in court Nov. 18 for a status conference. San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joseph P. Brannigan set bail at $5 million bail at the prosecution's request.