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RASH OF FIRES BLAMED ON ILLEGAL ALIENS

Stepped-up border patrols have created a dangerous side-effect: Illegal aliens seeking less-traveled areas to enter the country have left behind a trail of wildfires, authorities say.

With hundreds of immigrants crisscrossing back-country canyons, and summer fire conditions worsening, state forest officials said they are concerned about losing property - and possibly lives."They'll leave their campfires. They don't put them out properly," said Glen Newman, a fire chief for the state Department of Forestry.

So far this year, there have been 201 border fires, up from 64 for all of last year and 24 in 1994, he said. Fire investigators have traced at least 95 percent of this year's fires to illegal aliens.

No one has died in a wildfire this year, officials said. But last fall, the skeletal remains of five people were found near the site of a 10,000-acre fire near the San Diego-Tijuana, Mexico, border.

Most illegal aliens crossed roadways in the San Diego-Tijuana area until the federal government began erecting fences and tightening border controls in November 1994.

Since then, smugglers have been leading immigrants into the Otay mountain area and other wilderness in eastern San Diego County, Newman said.

The aliens, ranging from young children to the elderly, are ill-prepared for the risks, officials said.