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Gabe Huck, right, a member of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, stands along state Highway 168 while fighting the Creek Fire on Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP) Gabe Huck, right, a member of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, stands along state Highway 168 while fighting the Creek Fire on Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP)

Gabe Huck, right, a member of a San Benito Monterey Cal Fire crew, stands along state Highway 168 while fighting the Creek Fire on Sept. 6, 2020, in Shaver Lake, Calif. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke September 10, 2020

Antifa activists did not start the West Coast wildfires

If Your Time is short

  • A combination of drought, historic heat, lightning storms and heavy winds are thought to have contributed to more than 90 wildfires that have burned thousands of square miles across the West Coast.

  • Antifa stands for “anti-fascist.” It’s a loose, broad coalition of left-wing activists. There is no evidence that antifa supporters set wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington.

  • Police and fire officials have dispelled rumors about antifa, and while investigations are still ongoing, many of the wildfires appear to have been sparked accidentally.

At least seven people have died in wildfires that are ravaging the West Coast. More than 90 major fires have burned thousands of square miles, and smoke has obscured sunlight in several large areas — including the San Francisco Bay Area.

A combination of drought, historic heat, lightning storms and heavy winds are thought to have contributed to the destruction, which comes in the middle of the Western United States’ wildfire season. But social media users have an alternative explanation.

"Most of these fires are all being started by antifa and a month ago (Gov.) Kate Brown warned us about these fires that will be happening in Oregon," one Facebook user wrote Sept. 9.

"Multiple sources in Emergency Response have confirmed that the fires along the West Coast are caused by dozens of arsonists," tweeted Katie Daviscourt, a representative for Turning Point USA, a conservative advocacy group with a history of spreading misinformation. "These fires are allegedly linked to Antifa and the Riots."

"Please tell me how all these fires are starting so far apart from each other all over the US?" another Facebook user wrote.

Dozens of other posts blaming antifa for the wildfires were flagged as part of the company’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) Collectively, they’ve been shared thousands of times.

(Screenshot from Facebook)

Is there some evidence that these left-wing activists are responsible for the wildfires ravaging the West Coast? 

No. Officials have dispelled the rumors, and while investigations are still ongoing, many of the fires appear to have been sparked accidentally.

First, antifa stands for "anti-fascist." It is not a singular group, but rather a broad coalition of activists — including communists, anarchists and socialists — that’s been around for decades. 

RELATED: What is antifa, and why is it all over my timeline?

While antifa activists have used violence to achieve their goals in the past, experts say most of the movement’s organizing is not rooted in physical confrontation. Still, over the past few years, people ranging from President Donald Trump to everyday social media users have blamed antifa for acts of violence.

In Portland, demonstrations began in late May after Floyd’s death and have continued for more than 100 days. Antifa activists have been present at some of the protests. On several occasions, protesters have started fires around the city. 

But it’s unclear to what extent antifa supporters have been responsible for those fires — and there is no evidence that they are behind the dozens of wildfires burning from Washington to California.

On Sept. 9, police in Medford, Ore., where the Almeda fire has consumed hundreds of homes, took to Facebook to dismiss rumors that they had arrested members of antifa or the Proud Boys — a right-wing organization of self-described "Western chauvinists" — in connection with the blaze.

"We did not arrest this person for arson, nor anyone affiliated with Antifa or ‘Proud Boys’ as we’ve heard throughout the day," the police department wrote. "Also, no confirmed gatherings of Antifa which has also been reported."

Police in other parts of the state have also debunked rumors about antifa arsonists, 

"Rumors spread just like wildfire and now 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 in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON," wrote the Douglas County, Ore., Sheriff’s Office on Facebook Sept. 10. "THIS IS NOT TRUE!"

 

Joy Krawczyk, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Forestry, told the New York Times that they’re "not seeing any indications of a mass politically-influenced arson campaign." California fire officials told us they also haven’t seen any indication of antifa involvement.

"I have not heard any of those rumors. Here in the office, if that was going around, we would know about it immediately," said Sean McFadden, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "Right now, it’s safe to say that this is not correct."

We reached out to fire officials in Oregon and Washington, as well as the National Interagency Fire Center, for further comment, but we haven’t heard back.

Many fires on the West Coast are still under investigation, but here are a few suspected causes:

  • In California, the El Dorado fire is thought to have started over Labor Day weekend after a family used a "pyrotechnic device" to announce the gender of their new baby. The blaze consumed thousands of acres east of Los Angeles.

  • In mid-August, lightning strikes started hundreds of fires across Northern California, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Since then, more than 1 million acres have burned.

  • A wildfire east of Salem, Ore., ignited after strong wind gusts knocked down power lines in Santiam Canyon. Downed power lines have also started fires in Washington state.

RELATED: Oregon law enforcement does not have six ‘antifa arsonists’ in custody

Some fires were purportedly set deliberately, such as one near Eugene, Ore., that burned hundreds of acres and a small brush fire in Puyallup, Wash. But extremist groups are not thought to be connected to them, and arson appears to be the exception — not the rule. 

"I’ve talked to a lot of emergency, fire, and law enforcement personnel in Oregon over the past two days," wrote Lincoln Graves, a reporter and anchor for KATU in Portland, in a Sept. 9 Facebook post. "No one thinks Antifa is going deep into the forest to start fires on selectively windy days."

The Facebook post is inaccurate. We rate it False.

Our Sources

The Associated Press, "‘Burn it down’: Portland protesters light fire near police precinct; 15 arrested," Sept. 7, 2020

Cal Fire, "August Lightning Siege of 2020," accessed Sept. 10, 2020

Center for Disaster Philanthropy, "2020 North American Wildfire Season," Sept. 9, 2020

The Columbian, "Hundreds gather for pro-Trump rally in Oregon City," Sept. 7, 2020

The Deseret News, "What is antifa and how does it relate to the season of protests?" Sept. 2, 2020

Facebook post, Sept. 9, 2020

Facebook post, Sept. 9, 2020

Facebook post from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Sept. 10, 2020

Facebook post from Lincoln Graves, Sept. 9, 2020

Facebook post from the Molalla Police Department, Sept. 9, 2020

Facebook post from Medford Police, Sept. 9, 2020

Fox News, "Rioters vandalize, set fire at Portland Police Association office: police," Aug. 5, 2020

Interview with Sean McFadden, spokesperson for Cal Fire, Sept. 10, 2020

Los Angeles Times, "A long history of militant activism keeps protests alive in Portland," Aug. 24, 2020

Los Angeles Times, "Deep orange skies, ‘snowing’ ash as fire smoke swamps Bay Area," Sept. 9, 2020

The Mercury News, "California fires: Five reasons why this year is so bad," Sept. 8, 2020

National Interagency Coordination Center Incident Management Situation Report, Sept. 10, 2020

The New York Times, "A Gender-Reveal Celebration Is Blamed for a Wildfire. It Isn’t the First Time," Sept. 7, 2020

The New York Times, "From Antifa to Mothers in Helmets, Diverse Elements Fuel Portland Protests," July 19, 2020

The New York Times, "How the Wildfires Started, and Other Answers You Need," Sept. 10, 2020

The New York Times, "Wildfires Live Updates: Growing Blazes Add to Vast Destruction," Sept. 10, 2020

The Oregonian, "Arson investigation underway where human remains found at Almeda fire in Ashland, chief says," Sept. 10, 2020

The Oregonian, "Man arrested on arson allegation in wildfire west of Eugene, deputies say," Sept. 9, 2020

The Oregonian, "100 Days of Protests in Portland," Sept. 5, 2020

PolitiFact, "Ask PolitiFact: What is antifa, and why is it all over my timeline?" July 2, 2020

PolitiFact, "Florida congressional candidate blames antifa for violence without evidence," June 26, 2020

PolitiFact, "No evidence antifa members vandalizing Seattle homes that don’t supply food," June 18, 2020

PolitiFact, "Suspended Twitter account fans misinformation about antifa, George Floyd protests," June 1, 2020

The Seattle Times, "Wildfire updates, September 9: What to know today about the destructive fires in Washington state and on the West Coast," Sept. 9, 2020

Siuslaw News, "Regional fire crews battle 500-acre fire near Mapleton," Sept. 1, 2020

The Statesman Journal, "Oregon Wildfires: Santiam Canyon wildfires started by downed power lines, priority on 'saving lives,’" Sept. 8, 2020

Tweet from Katie Daviscourt, Sept. 9, 2020

USA Today, "Federal task force kills Portland shooting suspect as investigators moved to arrest him," Sept. 4, 2020

USA Today, "'We could hear the trees exploding': At least 7 dead as swath of wildfires rage across California, Oregon, Washington, other Western states," Sept. 9, 2020

The Washington Post, "Behind the blazes: Drought, extreme heat and climate change as an amplifier," Sept. 9, 2020

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Antifa activists did not start the West Coast wildfires

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