Fox Ran With Completely Baseless Accusation That Immigrants Set AZ Wildfire

In June, Fox News repeatedly promoted the accusation that undocumented immigrants had set the Monument wildfire that was raging in Arizona at the time. However, the Justice Department recently announced that it has charged two U.S. citizens in connection with the state's worst-ever wildfire.

From The Beginning, U.S. Forest Service Said The Allegation That Immigrants Set The Fire Was Baseless

U.S. Forest Service Official Tom Berglund: “There's No Evidence That I'm Aware” Indicating Undocumented Immigrants Set The Fire. Following claims by Sen. John McCain and others suggesting that the fire raging in Arizona may have been set by undocumented immigrants, a June 19 ABC News article reported:

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. [ABC News, 6/19/11]

But Fox Jumped In To Support John McCain's Suggestion That Immigrants Set The Fire

Fox Straight News Report: “The Evidence That John McCain Is Talking About Appears To Be Fairly Compelling.” During the June 21 edition of Fox News' America Live, Fox News reporter Trace Gallagher (supposedly a member of Fox's “straight news” division") devoted a segment to marshaling the evidence to defend McCain's comments:

ALYSON CAMEROTA (host): And in fire ravaged Arizona, a county sheriff is weighing in on the growing controversy as firefighters battle these relentless wildfires. Sheriff Larry Dever is coming to the defense of Senator John McCain and supporting the senator's claim that illegal immigrants may be responsible for starting some of these fires. Trace Gallagher is live in our west coast newsroom. Trace, obviously the senator took a lot of flak for this so now he's getting some support.

GALLAGHER: Yeah, because critics have called his comments careless and reckless, so the facts as we know them are as follows. There are now five fires being battled or cleaned up by firefighters in Arizona totaling about 750,000 acres. We know that some of those fires are human-caused. They are all being investigated. There are currently no suspects. Including the monument fire being human-caused, it started in an area where illegals are known to often cross the border. Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever now backing John McCain saying in his experience the fire points to illegals. Listen.

SHERIFF LARRY DEVER (video clip): People who use that area, it's a high-intensity drug and human trafficking area, a smuggling area and everything we know historically, that we know about the facts on the ground today, with the landscape and everything just points directly to that being the cause.

GALLAGHER: You heard Larry Dever say that everything we know historically, right? Well, that's the same thing that John McCain said, and he was citing testimony the Forest Service gave before Congress back in 2007. That testimony is as follows, and I'm quoting, “Large numbers of warming and cooking fires built and abandoned by cross-border violators have caused wildfires that have destroyed valuable natural and cultural resources. Agencies have documented that some cross-border violators also will intentionally set diversion or rescue fires using uncontrolled wildfires to divert law enforcement from their illegal activities.”

I want to go on now to video that Fox News shot of a campsite. This is near the border. This is an illegal immigrant campsite, and there was a campfire there as well. We just talked to a retired border patrol agent who patrolled that area for 27 years, and here's what he said. Listen.

DAVE STODDARD (video clip): It's common knowledge along the border, I mean, everybody who's lived here any length of time knows that these illegal aliens set, set fires in usually remote areas for various purposes.

GALLAGHER: We also went back, and we pulled up at least a dozen different wildfires confirmed to have been set by illegal immigrants over the past 15 years. So the evidence that John McCain is talking about appears to be fairly compelling.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. All helping to obviously vindicate him from the critics. [Fox News, America Live, 6/21/11]

Fox “Straight News” Division Hosted Sheriff Dever To Support McCain's Claim That Unauthorized Immigrants Started The AZ Wildfire. On the June 22 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer brought on Sheriff Larry Dever to discuss the cause of the recent Arizona wildfire. Dever suggested that the area is a “high drug-trafficking and human smuggling area” and that the United States had to secure its border in order to prevent future wildfires:

HEMMER: Now a local sheriff who works along the border has come out supporting John McCain. Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever is with me now, and sheriff good morning to you.

DEVER: Thanks for having me on.

HEMMER: You are welcome. Explain this, now. Is there proof illegals help start these fires?

DEVER: Let me just tell you what the facts are on the ground. The fire started at the U.S.-Mexico border where the constructed border fence ends, as it starts up the mountain. The part that - the national park it started in closed for several days, prior to the starting of this fire. Even if it wasn't closed there were no trails or easy access by roadway, where somebody would be camping, etc. The forest was also closed because of fire hazard. The bottom line is, there was nobody in the park, would have been there legally, there were no vehicles, no nothing. It's a high intensity drug trafficking and human smuggling area. We have scouts that hang out there all the time and they light signal fires and they light warming fires, because it gets cold at night and sometimes cigarettes, there is nothing to indicate there was any other cause and the highest probability, not possibility, is that that is how the fire started.

HEMMER: So you remain suspicious based on that answer then? And, you said you could have done a much better job, earlier? And you accept responsibility for that, meaning what, sheriff?

DEVER: Well, I think in terms of our communications to the public, is what I think could have been done better, earlier. In terms of mitigating or preventing this fire, we have to secure our borders -- and that's bottom line. It's not done. It continues to be a high intensity drug trafficking and human smuggling area, until that problem is solved and our border is secure, we're going to be living under this continued threat. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 6/22/11]

Fox “Straight News” Division Puts Out Even More Evidence To Support McCain. During the June 21 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jenna Lee aired comments McCain had made about the likelihood of immigrants starting the fires. She noted that “the official word from fire investigators are they don't know what exactly started these fires,” but immediately added that MCain “pointed out the monument fire started in a forest while it was closed to the public”:

JENNA LEE (co-host): Now, Arizona Senator John McCain is standing by his comments from this weekend that there is substantial evidence illegal immigrants are at least partly responsible for wildfires.


LEE: And again, the official word from fire investigators are they don't know what exactly started these fires. It's still under investigation. Senator McCain also pointed out the monument fire started in a forest while it was closed to the public.[Fox News, Happening Now, 6/21/11]

O'Reilly Gives Sheriff Dever The “Benefit Of The Doubt” That The Wildfires Were “Caused By Someone Who Was There Illegally.” After playing an audio and video tapes of both McCain and Dever suggesting that undocumented immigrants started the Arizona fire, guest host Juan Williams aired an interview between Bill O'Reilly and Randy Parraz. Parraz, a civil rights activist who ran against McCain for U.S. Senate in 2010, advocated that McCain and others wait for the results of an investigation before blaming undocumented immigrants for the fire. O'Reilly ultimately decided to give Sheriff Dever the “benefit of the doubt.” From the June 24 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

BILL O'REILLY (host): You may have a point on Senator McCain, he is a politician, and he is obviously looking for more help to keep people from crossing into Arizona from Mexico. So he's got a political agenda, there's no doubt about it. But the sheriff, the sheriff says flat-out, “There's nobody down there, you can't get in there, it's too remote, we have people that monitor this, there was nobody there, so it had to be caused by somebody who was there illegally, and that's what we're working on.” So it seems to me, as a responsible citizen, that you would say “Ok, I'm going to give the sheriff the benefit of the doubt.”


Well I think they are all concerned about putting out the fire, but they're also concerned about the intrusion of illegal aliens coming across into Arizona and causing all kinds of situations.[Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 6/24/11]

Fox & Friends Hosted McCain To Defend His Claim That “Illegals” Started Arizona's Wildfire. During the June 21 edition of Fox & Friends, the co-hosts did not challenge McCain's claim that it is “well-known” and a “fact” that “some of these fires” are set by unauthorized immigrants. From Fox News' Fox & Friends:

STEVE DOOCY: We know those wildfires in your state are really awful right now and they've torched thousands and thousands of acres. You, though, are in the meantime taking some heat from some critics after you said that you thought that illegals and drug smugglers likely started some of the fires and now your critics are saying, “OK Senator, prove it.”

JOHN MCCAIN: Well, Steve, thanks. The fact is these are the worst forest fires in the history of our state and we're grateful for all the firefighters and all the work that's been done. In a press conference that we held in Springerville in the course of the question and answer, I mentioned what I had just been briefed on by Forest Service official and had -- Forest Service had testified before Congress as short a time ago as 2006 and that is the fact that some of these fires are set by people who cross our border illegally.

DOOCY: Sure.

MCCAIN: In 2006, they testified before Congress, the Forest Service did and said: “Large numbers of warming and cooking fires built and abandoned by cross border violators have caused wildfires that have destroyed valuable, natural, and cultural resources.” They go on to say “Agencies have documented that some cross-border violators also will intentionally set diversion or rescue fires using uncontrolled wildfires to divert law enforcement from their illegal activities. That's a testimony before Congress.

That's what I was briefed on the day up there in Springerville, and there is a monument fire that just took place while the forest was closed so anyone who was there was there illegally so frankly, I am puzzled by the controversy. I mean, it's well known. I did not say that the wildfire was caused by people who crossed illegally. I just said some of these fires, and that's been every documented, so I'm still not clear what this is all about except for active-- activists who somehow want everybody to believe that our border is secure, which it is not.[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/21/11]

In Fact, Two U.S. Citizens Have Been Charged With Starting The Wildfire

Reuters: “Arizona's Largest Ever Wildfire” Attributed To Two Cousins From Southern Arizona. From an August 24 Reuters article:

Two cousins who allegedly left a campfire unattended have been charged with starting Arizona's largest ever wildfire that torched more than 800 square miles of wilderness before it was contained prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, and David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, were charged with starting the so-called Wallow Fire on May 29, in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona, the U.S. Attorney's office said in a news release.


The Malboeuf cousins, both from southern Arizona, were charged on five counts including causing timber to burn, leaving a fire unattended and unextinguished and building a campfire without removing all surrounding flammable material.


During June as several wildfires raged in the Mexico border state, Arizona Senator John McCain sparked controversy when he said there was “substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally.”

The Arizona Republican and former Republican presidential candidate made the comment at a news conference after paying a visit to the site of the Wallow Fire. Critics accused him of trying to single out undocumented immigrants as scapegoats before the cause of the fires had been officially determined. [Reuters, 8/24/11]

Phoenix New Times: “The Department Of Justice Confirms ... That Both Malboeufs Are U.S. Citizens.” The Phoenix New Times reported in an article titled “Sorry, John McCain, Wallow Fire Suspects U.S. Citizens. Confirmed”: "[I]llegal immigrants didn't start the fire -- a couple of white guys named Caleb and David Malboeuf, cousins, are suspected of starting the blaze. The Department of Justice confirms to New Times that both Malboeufs are U.S. citizens -- they live in the Flagstaff area." [Phoenix New Times, 8/25/11]

Fox Has A History Of Fearmongering About Undocumented Immigrants Causing Violence And Crime

Fox's MacCallum To Arizona Rancher: “Do You Feel Like You're Surrounded?” During the April 19 edition of America Live, Martha MacCallum repeatedly asked Arizona rancher Jim Chilton leading questions about whether the Obama administration was really securing the border. At one point, MacCallum asked Chilton whether he believed Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's claim “that the border is safer than it's been in a long time.” MacCallum later asked Chilton: “Do you feel like you're surrounded?” [Media Matters, 4/19/11]

On Fox, Lars Larson Claimed Undocumented Immigrants Commit “A Larger Proportionate Share” Of Crimes. On Fox News, conservative radio host Lars Larson claimed unauthorized immigrants are “involved in more than their share, a larger proportionate share, of criminal activity.” [Media Matters, 5/31/11]

Click here for the truth about Larson's claims

Fox Suggested Serial Killers May Be On The Loose If States Opt Out Of Secure Communities Program. During Fox News' coverage of Secure Communities, the deportation program begun under the Bush administration, Fox pushed the idea that opting out of the program would create “sanctuary” states, cities, and counties for dangerous undocumented immigrants, including “serial killer[s].” [Media Matters, 5/31/11]

Click here for the truth about the Secure Communities program

Fox Pushed Ridiculous Immigrant Crime Estimate: “2,158 Killed By Illegals Every Year.” Fox & Friends displayed an on-screen graphic promoting a ridiculous Family Security Matters estimate that “2,158 killed by illegals every year.” [Media Matters, 5/6/10]

Click here for the truth about immigrants and crime

Fox Made Evidence-Free Assertion That Undocumented Immigrants Are Responsible For Higher Crime Rates. Fox News' America Live has previously repeated the accusation that undocumented immigrants have increased crime rates in Hazleton, Pennsylvannia. [Media Matters, 6/7/11]

Click here for the truth about undocumented immigrants and crime in Hazleton