The Fire Within

The Fire Within

A border wildfire killed 7 illegal immigrants and critically burned 16 more. One year later, we experience the aftermath of that tragedy.
In the fall of 2007, high winds and dry chaparral fed an arc of wildfires from Malibu to the Mexican border, destroying hundreds of homes and forcing thousands to evacuate. The worst was the Harris Ranch blaze, which burned for 20 days, consumed 90,000 acres and left eight people dead. Largely unnoticed in the upheaval was that seven of the dead were undocumented migrants who were making the clandestine trek to the U.S. across well-worn border trails. Sixteen illegal immigrants caught in the flames were treated at UC San Diego’s Regional Burn Center; one’s grueling recovery process is graphically depicted here.

The Los Angeles Times culled through thousands of images and hours of audio collected over the past year to compellingly document the human aftermath of a little known aspect of the Harris wildfire tragedy in this in-depth video slideshow.

Producer John Vande Wege tells KobreGuide: “We spent the last couple of weeks putting together a video that is longer than average for our website and plays in the largest video window we’ve ever had.”

Photographer Don Bartletti, who also provided the audio and narration, adds: “Much of California’s history is defined by two seemingly disconnected realities – immigration and wildfires. Migrants and fire may never have crossed paths quite like they did in the Harris Ranch blaze of 2007. The conflagration burned away chaparral and revealed a network of footpaths that stitch tight the borderline between Mexico and the United States. Dozens of men and woman caught in the disaster depended on that brutally simple network for economic salvation. (This video) presents the causes, emotions and real life experiences of a tragedy of unspeakable pain and extraordinary cost.”

Length: 11:47

Photography and audio: Don Bartletti
Producer: John Vande Wege, Don Bartletti
Story: Marjorie Miller