(Photo: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)
The head of the U.S. forest service has said that the conditions fire crews are battling against in Arizona are “as bad as we can get.”
The Monument wildfires in Arizona have now been deemed the “number one priority” for firefighters across the U.S., as the combined conditions of low humidity, high temperatures and strong winds have fueled the fires to a devastating degree.
Tom Tidwell, head of the U.S. Forest Service, has said, “It just can’t get any worse.”
As fire crews from across the region have fought to battle the Arizona Wallow fire, and the smaller but growing Monument fire, authorities are still in deep investigations over both.
With regards to the Monument fire, Gordon Van Vleet, a spokesman for the Joint Information Center said, “We know where it started and when it started, but (the specific cause) is under investigation…When we do have that information, we will share it.”
However, Arizona Sen. John McCain caused controversy over the weekend as he blamed illegal immigrants for starting fires in the region. McCain said, “There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally. The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border.”
McCain explained a number of reasons why illegal immigrants were setting fires; to send signals to one another, to keep warm, and to distract immigration and law enforcement officials.
According to CNN, Angelo Falcon, the president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, quickly criticized McCain saying: “The degree of irresponsible political pandering by Sen. McCain has no limit… With the lack of evidence, he might as well also blame aliens from outer space for the fires.”
McCain’s comments were also rebuked by Randy Perez, a civil rights advocate, who said the comments were “careless and reckless.” He said, “You have to have some sort of factual basis; John McCain should know better.”
Perez was worried that people were looking for someone to blame for the devastation, and that it was too easy and convenient to target immigrants.
However, residents in Alpine in eastern Arizona were celebrating good news at the weekend as their evacuation order was listed on Saturday. They were forced to evacuate in early June due to the Wallow fire, which has become the largest in Arizona state history.
The three-week old Wallow Fire, which has burned over 500,000 acres, has been 38 percent contained as of Sunday. However, the work of some 4,000 firefighters has been hampered by strong winds and unfavorable conditions.
Red flag alerts were issued throughout U.S. states over the weekend, with all of New Mexico, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Utah issuing the warning.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Saturday declared a state of emergency as the Wallow fire crossed state lines. Her declaration allows for the mobilization of the state’s national guard and for the release of $100,000 for emergency response.