Cal Fire: Cowboy Fire started by lost illegal immigrants - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Cal Fire: Cowboy Fire started by lost illegal immigrants

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CAMPO (CNS) - A back-country wildfire that burned hundreds of acres over two days was caused by a pair of illegal immigrants who were lost for two days, Cal Fire announced Friday.

The so-called Cowboy Fire broke out around 1 p.m. Thursday near the Pacific Crest Trail, and had burned 822 acres by late this afternoon, but no structures were damaged in the sparsely populated area, said Cal Fire's Roxanne Provaznik.

 The migrants called Mexico's emergency dispatch system, "and advised them that they had been lost for two days, were stranded, dehydrated and were going to light a signal fire to attempt to get some help," Provaznik said.

"This information was relayed to the U.S. Border Patrol."

Authorities were unable to find the migrants, who remain at-large, she said.

"Investigators from Cal Fire and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service determined that there was evidence near the area of origin (of the blaze) of illegal aliens traveling through that area, which supports this report," Provaznik said.

Illegal immigrants often run into trouble in the back country of San Diego County, misjudging the difficulty of the mountainous terrain and summer heat -- or the cold and potential for snow in the winter.

The fire, which created a huge plume of smoke visible throughout the East County, was less than 50 percent contained. Full containment is expected Sunday, according to Provaznik.

She said most of the growth of the fire's acreage today came from an "island" of unburned fuel within the fire area.

Thursday, flames spread toward the edge of Star Ranch, a working horse and cattle ranch and historic attraction, where Cal Fire deployed a team of firefighters to protect structures, Provaznik said.

More than 1,300 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, she said.

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