The Holy Fire started Monday in the Cleveland National Forest and has so far destroyed 12 structures, according to fire authorities. The 181,000-acre (73,250-hectare) Carr Fire has destroyed almost 1,100 homes.
More than 21,000 people and 7,400 homes have been evacuated in and around the city of Lake Elsinore, where flames and billowing smoke rose into the sky at the edge of the city of 60,000 near the Santa Ana Mountains.
Gusty winds continued to drive the flames but were expected to ease off overnight before blowing up again Saturday afternoon.
Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, who owns a cabin in Holy Jim Canyon, was arrested earlier this week after a standoff with police and charged with arson, making criminal threats and resisting arrest. It wasn't immediately known if he had a lawyer.
The mandatory evacuation orders were issued as the inferno - which is suspected to have been deliberately started - inched closer towards homes in the area.
Joe Rodriguez is one local who has stayed and is using a power washer to wet down his patio. "I was asleep. I had two earplugs in".
Firefighters fought a desperate battle as huge flames came within metres of some homes, feeding on dense, dry chaparral and propelled by 30-km/h gusts.
The wildfires tearing through California have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres of land, destroyed thousands of structures, and forced evacuations across the state.
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