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Massive fire turned a perilous trek deadly for border crossers

October 5, 2008 |  9:41 am

Of eight people killed last year by the Harris fire in San Diego County, seven were illegal immigrants. Other migrants trapped in the wind-swept flames were burned and treated at a regional burn center, reports Marjorie Miller.

"Moises Ramirez crossed into California the morning of Oct. 21, 2007, with a plan. He would get a restaurant job and, with the money he earned, build a house on land his father had given him in El Grullo, Jalisco. A year or two of hard work and he could go home to Mexico and the woman he loved.

"On his way up Tecate Peak with six other migrants, Ramirez had stopped to pray at a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. But soon after they climbed over the border fence that Sunday, a Santa Ana blew in from the east, and they saw an orange glow rise up from the horizon. Flames raced toward them on 80-mph winds and the `coyote' they'd hired to guide them into the United States took off, leaving them to face a blaze that was chewing up chaparral like a wild beast.

"Ramirez knew he couldn't outrun his fate, and his cries to the virgencita were failing to keep the wind-whipped Harris Ranch fire at bay. As he huddled behind a boulder with the others, flames as tall as trees engulfed them. The ground crackled around them, and then they were beating out fire on each other's backs with their bare hands. 'I'm burning, put me out,' one after another screamed. 'I'm going to die,' the 34-year-old Ramirez thought. 'There's no salvation.' "

Read the rest of the report, which includes a photo slideshow, here.

Click here for more on immigration.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

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