Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Az. sheriff also blames wildfire on Mexicans

 In this file photo, U.S. Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.), left, speaks with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, center, and Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever Monday, Nov. 1, 2010 at McCain's campaign office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
While no one knows for sure what started the Monument wildfire in Arizona that began June 12 and has burned 27,200 acres and 58 homes, the debate around its origins has managed to drag in the controversial issue of immigration reform and set off accusations of racism.

On Saturday, Sen. John McCain, R-Az, said: "There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally" - and that "the answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border," McCain said at a press conference in Arizona on Saturday.

McCain took plenty of heat for the comments, Now, however, a local sheriff has come out and supported that view, Reuters reports.

McCain "puzzled" by controversy over wildfire comments
McCain blames wildfires on illegal immigrants
Video: Arizona wildfires force more evacuations

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever told Reuters the Monument Fire was "man-caused" and started in an area near the border fence with Mexico, which is closed to visitors and known to law enforcement for "high-intensity, drug- and human-trafficking. It wasn't the rabbits or the rattle snakes that started this fire, it was human beings, and the only human beings believed to be occupying (the area) were smugglers."

McCain took plenty of criticism for his original comments, with Randy Parraz, a civil rights activist who made an unsuccessful bid for McCain's Senate seat in 2010, accusing the longtime senator of "fan[ning] the flames of intolerance" in Arizona.

"People are looking for someone to blame," he said, calling McCain's comments "careless and reckless."

"It's easier to fan the flames of intolerance, especially in Arizona," Parraz said.

Meanwhile, authorities ordered an evacuation of an upscale neighborhood near the southern Arizona wildfire so crews can set controlled fires that will burn forest fuels and help form a barrier from the blaze.

The latest evacuation near the 42-square-mile Monument fire near Sierra Vista, about 15 miles north of the Mexico border, is aimed at safeguarding the area in the event the blaze whips through a canyon and advances toward the neighborhood.

"The big catcher's mitt is what we are calling this," the fire's commander, Greg Poncin, said of the strategy.

Crews are planning to set the controlled fires Tuesday night. It was not immediately clear how many people will have to leave their homes.

Richard Burke, who has lived in a home nestled beside a mountain since 1988, moved two horses from his property shortly after the evacuation was ordered.

Crews used a chain saw to remove limbs from a tree just a few feet in front of his house. Discarded brush sat in a pile nearby. Four propane tanks and two gas cans were lined up for firefighters to see.

Burke said he is saddened by the thought of seeing his home swept away in a wildfire.
"I probably wouldn't even rebuild," he said. "I would probably just move on to other locations."

A half mile away, crews scraped dead, brown grass away around utility poles. Nearby, a helicopter dropped water on the ridge of a smoldering mountain.

Authorities have already ordered other areas evacuated. Some of those evacuations have been lifted.

It's now 45 percent contained.

Crews focused Tuesday on building containment lines along a canyon on the blaze's northwest flank.

The fire was emitting much less smoke than it did Monday.

Heavy winds Sunday pushed the fire across a state highway and led to more evacuations.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/06/21/national/main20073164.shtml#ixzz1PylOTaMj

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