GAO Confirms Link Between Aliens and Arizona Wildfires

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

November 25, 2011

The U. S. Government Accountability Office released its study this week that has linked 30 fires that started during a five-year period to illegal aliens. Read the complete report here.

The GAO findings vindicated Senator John McCain who earlier this year said that Arizona fires are often caused by illegal border crossers. The Hispanic lobby immediately charged McCain with scapegoating.

Today, however, McCain could---and did---gloat. After his office released the report, McCain said:

“I hope this report is a lesson to the activists and public officials that would prefer to engage in partisan character attacks rather than focus the discussion on the vital need to secure our southern border.” [Report Links Wildfires to Immigrants, Associated Press, November 22, 2011]

Using the Bosie-based National Interagency Fire Center as its source, the GAO collected information for its study which included fires within 100 miles of Arizona's border and also interviews with federal, state and tribal officials along the state's 370-mile border.

Nearly 2,500 wildfires occurred in the Arizona border region from 2006 to 2010. The GAO limited its report to those that were human-caused and burned more than one acre.

Based on investigative reports filed from the scene, the GAO found that the 30 probed wildfires were associated with illegal border crossers primarily in southeastern Arizona. An additional 15 wildfires occurred in areas that are well known for drug smuggling. Investigators also found food wrappers with Spanish language labels in the area. U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell agreed with the GAO’s observations.

The GAO also analyzed how the presence of illegal aliens, especially drug dealers, can hamper firefighting efforts. The probability of encounters with smugglers or aliens seeking food, water and shelter can put firefighters at risk.

My June syndicated column titled The Arizona Fires and the Conspiracy of Silence is here.


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