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McCain Says Report Backs Comments About Immigrants Causing Wildfires

The Monument fire burns Saturday, June 18, 2011 in Sierra Vista, Ariz.
Matt York
The Monument fire burns Saturday, June 18, 2011 in Sierra Vista, Ariz.

Sen. John McCain says a new report from the Government Accountability Office backs some of the controversial comments the Republican from Arizona made over the summer.

Back in June, McCain received heated criticism when he said that some of the wildfires blazing in Arizona were caused by undocumented immigrants. A report released today (pdf) by the independent GAO finds that the effect undocumented border crossers have on wildfires is not "fully known," mostly because a great deal of wildfires are not investigated.

From 2006 to 2010, the report says, only 77 of the 422 human-caused fires were investigated. 30 of those "identified illegal border crossers as a suspected source of ignition."

"This independent GAO study again confirms what U.S. Forest Service and local officials in Arizona have long known: That some of the fires along the Arizona-Mexico border are caused by people crossing the border illegally," said McCain in a statement. "I hope this report is a lesson to the activists and public officials that would prefer to engage in partisan character attacks rather than help focus the discussion on the vital need secure our southern border."

The Los Angeles Times has a bit more from the report:

Of the 30 fires, nine burned more than 100 acres each, 16 burned 10 to 100 acres, and five burned fewer than 10 acres, according to the report.

Efforts to signal for help, provide warmth or cook food appear to be the source of the fires, according to the report. One 2006 fire that burned about 170 acres started after an injured border crosser signaled his need for help. The causes of some of the fires are not known, but the report noted that some occurred in areas known for drug smuggling.

The report, which was commissioned by McCain, did not look at the 2011 wildfires that blazed through the state.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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