Last May and June, the Horseshoe 2 fire burned nearly 250,000 acres in Arizona and cost millions to subdue. And while fires have plagued the border state, an investigation of Horseshoe 2 suggests that illegal drug smugglers from Mexico were in the area where the fire started.
At the request of four senators, including Sen. John McCain from Arizona, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study on the causes of fires within 100 miles of the Mexican border between 2006 and 2010. The recently released report determined that the majority of state fires were caused by humans.
Of the 422 human-caused fires that burned one or more acre during the period of the sampling, the GAO investigated 77. Of those 77 cases, 30 were thought to be caused by illegal aliens crossing the border, accounting for about 39 percent of the fires investigated.
The causes of the fires started by illegal border crossing vary, from efforts to signal for help, to fires started to provide warmth or to cook food. In 2006, the Black Mesa fire, which burned approximately 170 acres, was caused by an injured border crosser in need of assistance. Other fires have been ignited in areas known for drug smuggling.
“This independent GAO study again confirms what U.S. Forest Service and local officials in Arizona have long known: That some of the fires along the Arizona-Mexico border are caused by people crossing the border illegally,” said Sen. McCain.
In many cases, putting out these fires takes longer than normal, because firefighters are not equipped to deal with border dangers beyond extinguishing fires. According to the report, “The region is made more dangerous for firefighters because they may encounter smugglers; high-speed law enforcement pursuits; environments littered with trash and other biological hazards; and illegal border crossers who are seeking food, water, transportation, or rescue.”
When responding to fires, firefighters are handed an “International Border Watchouts” card provided by the U.S. Forest Service. The card warns them that threats to employees are present 24/7/365.
“The report further found that firefighting activities have sometimes been delayed while waiting for law enforcement escorts as protection from armed smugglers, which could cause fires to grow larger and more damaging,” said Sen. McCain. “I hope this report is a lesson to the activists and public officials that would prefer to engage in partisan character attacks rather than help focus the discussion on the vital need secure our southern border.”
Arizona has a history of challenges in dealing with illegal immigration, as the state runs the length of almost 20 percent of the border with Mexico.