A Forest Service battalion chief, 47-year-old Gary Helming, was killed in a traffic accident while making the 200-mile drive home from fighting the fire.
Ballenger made his first court appearance in Butte County Superior Court on Friday, District Attorney Michael Ramsey said in a telephone interview.
The pilot and a spokesperson of a Boeing 747 airplane, converted to help blanket wildfires in water and fire retardant, on Thursday confirmed the news many in Eastern Madera County and California were waiting to hear.
Flames from the Ponderosa Fire burn a home east of Oroville, Calif., on August 29, 2017.
It has also damaged power lines and closed roads north of Sacramento.
California Governor Jerry Brown on Friday issued an emergency declaration for a wildfire burning in the northern part of the state, the same day that the man accused of starting the blaze was charged with arson.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Tuesday that flames have burned 80 acres (32 hectares).
Interagency fire spokesman John Gaffney says the biggest priority is protecting about a half dozen ranches threatened by the fire that has burned about 45 square miles (116 square kilometers).
The Ponderosa Fire has grown to over 3,500 acres, has destroyed 10 homes and is still threatening about 500 more.
One of the scores of wildfires burning from California to Montana temporarily shut down the main travel route to the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert about 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of Reno.
It was partially contained, but about 500 homes remained in its path.
Firefighters say the wildfire has burned 60 acres (24 hectares) of steep terrain covered by pine trees and brush.
On Wednesday, firefighters battled rapid fire development, unsafe rates of spread and high temperatures, Cal Fire said.
The blaze that began Tuesday near the town of Oroville is among a series of wildfires burning across the U.S. West, including in and around California's Yosemite National Park.