BREAKING BREAD: Bureau of Land Management firefighters Marc Capetillo, left, and Curtiss Fortune share a meal of burritos with Javier Garcia of the Tijuana Fire Department. The team of about 40 bomberos is believed to be the first from Mexico to fight a major U.S. blaze.
They were on their way back to Jamul, weary from dousing a flare-up along winding California 94.
"Stop!" a captain yelled to his fellow firefighters. "I think I see a body."
The engines in the caravan quickly reversed a couple of hundred yards, stopping near the intersection with Barrett Lake Road, said crew member Rodrigo Santana.
Face down, just off the side of the road, was a Latino man wearing a backpack. Obviously a migrant, his body was charred. He was dead, stopped in his tracks by advancing wildfires and thick smoke.
To these crews, the man was more than a casualty. He was a countryman.
Santana and his fellow crew members are bomberos from Tijuana, Mexico, among the first contingent of firefighters to come north to fight a major blaze. The team of about 40 is assigned to the Harris fire, near the border in San Diego County.
Their grim discovery Thursday was an eerie reminder of what others in their country are willing to risk for a new life in the U.S.
"It's the consequences of the United States being a First World country and that Mexico is not," Santana said Friday. "It's sad."
"He's not the first one and he's not going to be the last one that is going to be found," fellow bombero Jose Manuel Villarreal Salgado recalled thinking.
Sure enough, three other bodies, all believed to be those of illegal immigrants, were found by the U.S. Border Patrol farther down the road.
Of course, Salgado and Santana said, they had seen many dead bodies before, but it was strange to find one in the United States.
Both men grimaced slightly as they discussed their discovery. But each expressed different views of who was to blame -- Salgado pointed to the Mexican government, Santana to the U.S.
"It's a Mexican problem because they cannot provide stable jobs and good wages for the workers," Salgado said. "Mexico has the capacity to help and they don't. Government officials just stuff their pockets with our money."
"I'm disappointed in the Mexican government. It's difficult to see a Mexican die, trying to have a better life in another country," Salgado said. "It's sad. It's sad."
Of the migrants, Salgado said, "My opinion is that they have the knowledge of the risks they are taking."
Santana argued that Americans profit on the backs of Latino laborers. But the Mexicans, he said, do not always benefit; they cannot always send enough money back to their families.
Just in the process of getting here, many pay with their lives, often in the heat of the Arizona desert. The blazes are just another cruel way to go, Santana said.
All told in the recent wildfires, seven immigrants have been found dead not far from the border. At the University of San Diego Regional Burn Center, at least 14 are being treated for burns.
Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said it was "inevitable" that more bodies would be found.
On Wednesday, before the bomberos encountered the body, one of the crew from Tijuana discussed his fears for his migrant countrymen.