June 19, 2011 -- A U.S. Forest Service official said today there is no evidence that illegal immigrants started some of the wildfires in Arizona, as Sen. John McCain had claimed.
Tom Berglund, spokesman for the federal group managing the Wallow fire that McCain toured Saturday, said the cause of the fire has been determined as "human," specifically an "escaped campfire," meaning the campfire sparked beyond the confines of the rocks containing it.
Two "subjects of interest" have been spoken to, but as of now, no suspect has been named, Berglund said. When asked if there is substantial evidence that some fires were caused by illegal immigrants, as McCain said at a news conference Saturday, Berglund said: "Absolutely not, at this level."
"There's no evidence that I'm aware, no evidence that's been public, indicating such a thing," he said.
"We are concerned about, particularly, areas down on the border where there is substantial evidence that some of these fires are caused by people who have crossed our border illegally," McCain said Saturday at a press conference, according to CNN. "The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border.
"They have set fires because they want to signal others. They have set fires to keep warm and they have set fires in order to divert law enforcement agents and agencies from them," McCain said.
McCain offered no evidence to substantiate his claims, however, prompting criticism from Latino civil rights advocates.
Randy Parraz, a civil rights advocate who ran unsuccessfully against McCain as a Democratic candidate in 2010, was quick to deny McCain's accusations, calling them "carless and reckless."
"It's easier to fan the flames of intolerance, especially in Arizona," Parraz said.
"The degree of irresponsible political pandering by Sen. McCain has no limits," Angelo Falcon, the president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, told CNN. "With the lack of evidence, he might as well also blame aliens from outer space for the fires."
The Wallow fire, which has burned 511,118 acres of land according to InciWeb, an online database that tracks natural disasters. On Saturday, it was about 38 percent contained, according to the Arizona Republic, but authorities are concerned about high winds. The 200 residents of Luna, N.M., located seven miles away from the Arizona border, were evacuated on Saturday.
The Wallow fire is one of five wildfires currently being battled in Arizona, including the Monument fire in southern Arizona, which destroyed dozens of homes last week.