SAN DIEGO --
A volunteer firefighter who battled last month's devastating blazes in San Diego County had a secret: he's a convicted arsonist.
Steven Santos Robles Jr., 30, is back in prison because he violated parole by failing to tell his parole officer he had taken a position with the Ranchita Volunteer Fire Department.
"We have had no other problems with him until this point," said Jerome Marsh, a spokesman with the state parole department.
Robles was convicted a decade ago after admitting he set seven North County wildfires in 1997. Thousands of acres and about a dozen homes burned in fires set by Robles, who had been a volunteer firefighter for the San Pasqual Volunteer Fire Department and the California Conservation Corps.
He was sentenced to 18 years in prison but was paroled in May.
Robles did not have to undergo a background check when he was accepted last month as a volunteer with the department in Ranchita, a community of 160 people near Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
He trained twice with the fire department and on Oct. 21 helped battle the Witch Creek fire, which eventually killed two people, burned nearly 200,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.
Robles spent 30 hours on the front lines.
Two weeks later, though, a state fire investigator having dinner at a firehouse recognized Robles.
"I never had any reason to question the guy," Ranchita Fire Chief Gary Loyd said. "The guy was out there saving lives and houses. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't supposed to be."
Robles is not suspected of setting any of the fires last month, state fire officials said.
This is the second embarrassment for the tiny community. A former Ranchita volunteer who helped at the Qualcomm Stadium evacuation center during the fires claimed to be a registered nurse, but it turned out she lied.
"All I can do is the best I can do," Loyd said. "As a volunteer fire chief, I take who I can get to fight fires and protect the community."
Still, Loyd said volunteers will now have to pass background checks.