FIRES ONE YEAR LATER: Professor’s documentary exposes deadly negligence

By Veronica Leyva Eissa

“The Devil’s Breath,” a Native American name used to describe the Santa Ana winds, is the title of a new half hour documentary that recounts the 2007 wildfires that afflicted the San Diego County exactly one year ago.

Interestingly, Professor Laura Castañeda’s new production is not about the multi-million dollar damages it left behind, or the property losses, or its effects on our environment, or the impact it had in the county; not even its causes.

More importantly, it reveals the last desperate hours of some of the 11 undocumented immigrants that perished during their journey into the U.S. The documentary captures the helplessness, the desperation, and the grief and sorrow of those left behind.

The half hour documentary is not just an exposure of another tragic event; it exposes other subjects that make the viewer think. The documentary mentions the obstacles that interfered with the rescues, such as the language barrier and rough location of the victims. It also captures the first responder’s lack of concern through the stories of the survivors.

One of those survivors is a man named Pedro, who recounts the torturous moments he faced, his escape from the blaze, and his non-stop plea to the rescuers for his friend that lay burnt in the trenches. Sadly, but more so puzzling was the fact that according to Pedro no attempts were made, even after he stayed in order to show the rescuers the location. A claim a deputy from the Sheriff’s Department says, “Was totally unfounded.”

This brings to light other concerns to its viewers in regards to the rescue attempts of people. Could it have something to do with their immigrant status? Would it have been different if the lives were that of American citizens?

The stories are real and touching. “The Devil’s Breath” took my breath away, leaving a lump in my throat and concern about immigrant’s civil rights in this country, the poverty affecting our neighboring countries that causes people to go in search of a better life, the “American Dream”, all while risking their own lives.

Professor Castañeda succeeds in capturing the dangers and perils of the “border crossers” in the tragic event, all while validating the victim’s lives.

(Veronica Leyva Eissa is a City Times staff writer)

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FIRES ONE YEAR LATER: Professor’s documentary exposes deadly negligence