Wildfire is an inherently complex biogeochemical process, and there is no singular reason for the worsening crisis. It’s not just climate change, nor simply the unfortunate legacy of 20th century forest management, nor only the continued expansion into the wildland urban interface—it really is all of these things together, all at once. 

— Daniel Swain, climate scientist, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA)


Five seconds. That’s how long it took me to type in “Antifa, fires” and for Google to return, just on the first page:

  • “Wildfires: Antifa? Proud Boys? Here’s what fuels misinformation” (Deseret News)
  • “What caused Oregon fires? Just blame Antifa” (LA Times)
  • “Officials baselessly linked ‘antifa’ to arson before wildfires” (The Guardian)
  • “Joe Rogan falsely blamed forest fires in Oregon on ‘left-wing’ activists” (Business Insider)
  • “False Rumors That Activists Set Wildfires Exasperate Officials” (New York Times)
  • “As wildfires rage, false antifa rumors spur pleas from police” (NBC News)
  • “No, antifa supporters aren’t setting fires in the West” (Washington Post)
  • “Fact check: Antifa and Proud Boys are not in custody for starting fires” (Reuters)
  • “Claims that ‘Antifa’ or far-left activists have been arrested for setting fires…are false” (Newswise)
  • “Clackamas County Sheriff’s deputy placed on leave after sharing Antifa conspiracy theory” (KGW8)
  • “Fact check: Oregon fires were not set by antifa” (USA Today)

For this one, I had to add “FBI” to my search:

“September 11, 2020. 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.”

Here’s another, posted by the Medford Police on their Facebook page:

WTF? As if climate change, subsequent drought, ill-conceived USFS “total fire suppression” management practices, expansion of communities into forested lands, and strong offshore winds aren’t sufficient reason for the West’s worst fire season ever? We have to throw far left and far right extremists into the mix, which—ironically—makes the task of actually fighting the fires even more challenging. In Medford, for instance, the Jackson County Sheriff posted on Facebook: “One increasingly problematic issue related to the disastrous fires in Jackson County is the spreading of false information. We are inundated with questions about things that are FAKE stories. One example is a story circulating that varies about what group is involved as to setting fires and arrests being made. THIS IS NOT TRUE!”

Of course, this is all against a background of our polarized political climate. For instance, here’s a tweet from Oregon Republican candidate for US Senate Paul Romero:

Fires are a huge issue, which will only get worse as the climate warms. Just this year and just in California, over 8,000 fires have burned almost four million acres, with 26 deaths and nearly 7,000 structures destroyed. The worst approach we can take is to blame easy targets (arsonists) while ignoring the very real, painful and long-term solutions to the crisis (reduce CO2 emissions, allocate funds for forestry management, stop communities from encroaching into forests…). One thing we know for sure: the status quo isn’t working.

Climate change has doubled the frequency of extreme autumn wildfire conditions in California over the past 40 years, based on observed changes in the frequency of autumn days exceeding the 95th percentile of the historical Fire Weather Index (FWI). (Michael Goss et al., 2020)

It takes but a few minutes to check out rumors. Whether it’s forest fires linked to arsonists; Covid linked to 5G/Bill Gates/Wuhan laboratory; autism linked to vaccines; chemtrails; world domination theories: you owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your community to first check, then, for all our sakes, don’t spread the bullshit!