Monday, June 13, 2011

Ranchers Suspect Immigrants In String Of Fires, Firefighters Taking Extra Precautions Due To Smuggling Danger

When Dan Bell looks out onto the sprawling ranch that makes up his family's ZZ Cattle Company, he sees smoke and smoldering mountains. "I've never seen a year like this," said Bell. The 70,000-acre Murphy Complex Fire burning through the Coronado National Forest south of Tucson is the latest of seven fires since March that have burned through land on Bell's ranch. He estimates two-thirds of the ranch's grazing acres are now charred. "There was nothing to really cause these fires to start, so one has to think that it has to be associated with illegal activity that's going on around the border," said Bell. The ranch is located just north of the Arizona border with Mexico, and Bell said he believes the fires were set by illegal immigrants as they camped or signaled for help. The fire is burning through a well-known smuggling route. It's the same area where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot and killed by suspected bandits in December. As a result, firefighters are given a safety brief when they arrive on scene. Back at the ZZ Cattle Company, Dan Bell worried about when he's going to be able to round up displaced cattle and wondered when the next fire will strike. "You just never know what you're going to come across day by day. You may come across immigrants coming through, or you may come across smugglers with weapons," said Bell...more

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