Tucson Weekly Wants Answers on Arizona Wildfires

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on July 1, 2011
As we have noted here before

, at least two Arizona reporters have reported on public skepticism about the refusal of federal officials to speak directly about concerns that smugglers or other illegal border crossers have caused some of the recent, devastating fires in the Arizona borderlands.

Now one of those reporters, Leo Banks of the Tucson Weekly, has come out with the most comprehensive report yet.

Banks draws no firm conclusions about the fires, but he presents important evidence. And he suggests that it might take a congressional investigation to make the Forest Service and the Border Patrol disclose what they know.

Banks quotes one long-time Forest Service ranger expressing exasperation at his inability to get Washington’s approval to speak to the press. “It’s so cotton-picking political,” says Keith Graves, a former ranger who is now working as the liaison between the Forest Service and the federal program known as the Secure Border Initiative.

Banks acknowledges that federal authorities may be understandably cautious on a highly-charged issue. But he also notes the local suspicion that political correctness or the Obama administration’s insistence that the border is “more secure than ever” may have spawned high-level decisions to keep the facts under wrap. And he cites evidence that a coverup may have begun during the administration of George W. Bush.

Here are some bullet points from the article:

  • On the issue of causation, Banks writes, “We know for certain that the three most-destructive border fires this year—the Horseshoe 2, Murphy Complex and Monument fires—all took place along major smuggling routes. In the case of the Murphy Fire, there's strong evidence that it was started by a crosser in distress.”

  • On the issue of Border Patrol knowledge, Banks quotes local resident Art Douglas, who lost his home in one of the fires. The former chairman of Creighton University’s atmospheric sciences department, Douglas “says he was told flat out by a Border Patrol agent that the Monument Fire . . . was started by a group of illegals that agents had been monitoring all day.”

  • Banks quotes a 2002 Interior Department study that reported: “Undocumented Mexican nationals were suspected of causing eight major wildfires (of 100 acres or more) and destroying 68,413 acres or 108 square miles of public lands in FY 2002. . . Hundreds of other wildfires, less than 100 acres (usually 1 to 5 acres), were also caused by undocumented Mexican nationals entering the U.S. . . .” Most were caused by “discarded cigarettes or matches, or campfires carelessly left burning . . . Wildfires such as this are common in the summer months along the U.S./Mexico border.” The study was “a bombshell,” Banks writes. Nevertheless, “it was buried by Interior under George W. Bush and later Barack Obama, and no follow-up was done.”

Banks draws this conclusion: “The truth will do us all good, no matter what it is. Without it, the subject will remain an open sore used by both sides in a divisive issue . . . If we try, we can get close to learning what really happened, perhaps with the help of a congressional subpoena.”