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Yuma border agents fight fires, smugglers in busy week

On their way to patrol, two Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents stopped to investigate something strange and helped save two occupants from a house fire early Sunday morning.

“They were driving out to their area when the agents saw the light coming from the house,” said Border Patrol spokesperson Agent Kyle Estes.

When they stopped to investigate the garage, the agents, who Border Patrol did not identify, realized the light was a fire spreading through the structure. The first agent on scene called for the fire department and, with the help of the second agent, began trying to get the attention of anyone inside while using garden hoses and vehicle fire extinguishers to combat the blaze.

By the time Rural Metro Fire Department arrived, part of the house was in flames and the agents were still trying to get someone to answer the door.

When the two people inside were safe, the agents were ready to go to work.

“They were there probably for less than half an hour, no more than 30 minutes, so they pretty much got there, did what they needed to do” Estes said. “They didn’t stick around, they got out to their job and went back out to patrol the border.”

Capt. John Hannon, Rural Metro Fire Station 5, said that the Border Patrol agents’ actions helped the couple living in the house to escape without injuries.

Hannon also said the house did not have working smoke detectors and the cause of the fire, which did minimal, mostly smoke related damage to the house, was still being investigated. He emphasized the importance of maintaining working smoke detectors, changing the batteries and leaving the house without looking for valuables.

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Hannon said that the if the agents hadn’t stopped, “the outcome of the occupants would have been a lot worse.”

Estes said that federal and local law enforcement frequently back each other up during incidents like traffic stops. 

“That’s exactly how it works, it’s a very much a law enforcement and EMS family that’s out here,” Estes said. “We’re always there looking out for each other.”

But fighting fires is unusual for Border Patrol agents in the Yuma Sector

“As agents, this was really an out of the ordinary case, we don’t see too may fires out here, especially on our watch out in the desert,” Estes said. “For the most part our terrain is different.”

Estes compared the conditions his agents work in to the Tucson area where he grew up.

“Out here you have a lot more sand, we do have brush but it’s a lot more sparse so we don’t see those big brush fires that you’re going to have up in the Catalinas,” Estes said. “Every once in a while you have a fire here and there.”

The Rural Metro Fire Department could not be reached for updates on the amount of the damage or the cause of the fire.

“The fire department here is very good and they handle containment very well,” Estes said.

The fire was just part of a busy week for Yuma Sector who arrested 17 drug smuggling suspects as well as seized 1,728 pounds of marijuana and 5.7 pounds of methamphetamine in a five day period starting that started on Thursday.

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That’s when agents on the western side Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge approached a northbound Chevy Tahoe that turned and drove south towards the U.S.-Mexico border but was stopped by a vehicle barrier.

Unable to take the vehicle across the border, two men left it behind and fled into Mexico on foot. Agents discovered 802 pounds of marijuana in the abandoned vehicle.

The next day Border Patrol dog alerted to a Ford-F-350 at the Spot Road checkpoint on Interstate-8, leading to the discovery of 150 pounds of marijuana and 5.7 pounds of methamphetamine. The apprehended driver turned out to be a Mexican national with permanent legal resident status.

Later on the day of the fire, agents apprehended two groups of suspects after dark south of Gila Bend using night vision equipment. The first group, eight suspects carrying a total of 390 pounds of marijuana, was apprehended around 10 p.m. A second group of five smugglers was apprehended carrying 257 pounds after a sixth suspect escaped. Background checks revealed all 13 suspects to be Mexican nationals.

The last reported seizure occurred southwest of Gila Bend Monday afternoon when agents spotted five suspects and apprehended three with 130 pounds of marijuana.

Estes confirmed the marijuana seizures totaled 1,729 pounds - worth an estimated $864,500.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Border Patrol

An early morning fire was spotted by Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents who stayed to help Rural Metro Fire reach the couple who lived in side and combat the flames.