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FBI says false arson claims hampering wildfire response

FBI says false arson claims hampering wildfire response

Local residents look at smoke and fire over a hill during wildfires near the town of Medford, Oregon, on Sep 9, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON: The FBI on Friday (Sep 11) denounced numerous false claims that "extremists" are intentionally setting fires in Oregon, saying the misinformation is hampering efforts to bring devastating wildfires under control.

Oregon is one of several US western states facing wildfires that have left more than a dozen people dead and pushed hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.

READ: Oregon wildfire melts trucks, leaves warlike destruction in wake

Social media users have sought to link the blazes to Antifa, a structureless movement that says it is dedicated to fighting fascism online and in public, and which is a favoured target of conservatives.

"Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away (from) local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control," the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Portland office said in a statement.

"FBI Portland and local law enforcement agencies have been receiving reports that extremists are responsible for setting wildfires in Oregon. With our state and local partners, the FBI has investigated several such reports and found them to be untrue," it said.

"TOTALLY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE"

One of the false claims about Antifa arsonists appears to have originated with Paul Romero Jr, who unsuccessfully ran to be one of Oregon's US senators.

"Oregon is on fire! Pallet Company in Oregon City confirmed Antifa arsonist on camera. Douglas County Sheriff has 6 ANTIFA arsonists in custody," he wrote in a tweet that spread as a screenshot on Facebook.

But the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post: "Our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires."

READ: 16 dead in US wildfires as officials say toll could rise

And Sergeant David Edwins of the Oregon City Police Department told AFP by phone: "As far as the actual city limits go, we have no information on a pallet company having any arson done to it."

Other social media posts claimed: "7 Antifa members in custody for starting the fires. Police scanner Medford."

Mike Moran, public information officer for the sheriff's office in Jackson County, which includes Medford, said the claim is false, reiterating that it was causing harm.

"There is absolutely no truth to that story that seven Antifa people or anyone affiliated with Antifa or other organisations have been arrested for anything in our area," Moran said by phone.

"It's totally counterproductive. We're trying to do a lot of emergency work and people call in with things making false reports or just wanting to check on this story that has no merit," he said.

Source: AFP/dv

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