- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

RAYMONDVILLE (AP) Five illegal immigrants sleeping in a sugar cane field near the U.S.-Mexico border were killed yesterday when fire swept through the field, authorities said.
One other person is in critical condition.
The field was set on fire about 10:30 a.m. as part of the harvesting process, Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence said.
Minutes after the field had been lit, a man ran out yelling that he was on fire and there were five more persons in the field, Sheriff Spence said.
Three bodies were found burned. Autopsies will be ordered, but it appeared the men died of asphyxiation, Justice of the Peace Sabas Garza said.
A man and woman were taken by ambulance to a hospital, where they died. Sheriff Spence said a sixth man was taken by medical helicopter to a burn center in Dallas. A hospital spokesman said the patient was in critical condition, but had no further details.
Sheriff Spence said it was believed the group was sleeping in the field when the fire was set. He said windy conditions may have caused the fire to burn faster than normal.
Authorities were checking on the identities of the group. Some of the victims, all illegal aliens, had identification that burned up, but an intact ID showed one of the men was from Guatemala, sheriff's officials said.
A pair of tennis shoes, scattered water bottles and a travel bag containing deodorant and toothpaste was all that remained at the scene of the fire yesterday.
The fields are burned every spring to clear weeds and undergrowth so the cane stalks can be harvested.
Normally, signs are posted on the perimeter of sugar cane fields warning of a burn. Sheriff Spence said that, about a half-hour before the burn, farmers are required to speak through a loudspeaker in English and Spanish, warning of the burn. The warnings were issued before yesterday's burn, he said.
Raymondville is about 40 miles north of Brownsville, which is along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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