Senator John McCain of Arizona said illegal immigrants could be to blame for some of the flames along the border of his state after touring wildfire hotspots over the weekend.
"We are concerned about, particularly areas down on the border where there is substantial evidence that some of these fires are caused by people who have crossed our border illegally," charged McCain on Saturday.
However, a federal spokesman quickly denied there was substantial evidence to support McCain's claim about the so-called “wallow fire” -- the largest in the state's history that has already charred a half-million acres.
McCain further revealed that he was “concerned about … the border” and wildfires. Illegal immigrants, he maintained, “have set fires because they want to signal others, they have set fires to keep warm, and they have set fires in order to divert law agents and agencies from them.”
One way to fight wildfires, he said, is to “get a secure border.”
According to a Politico report, the McCain camp on Monday defended the senator, saying that he was not specifically referring to the wallow fire – although he was at the scene of that firestorm when his controversial remarks were made.
Indeed, strong winds and high temperatures are feeding wildfires across much of the southern United States. Three dozen large fires are burning through ten states.
The senator's office continued to emphasize Monday that McCain was referring to a variety of fires close to the Arizona-Mexico border in his remarks Saturday.
Three other fires in the Coronado National Forest are close to the Arizona-Mexico border.
McCain's office highlighted that McCain said "some of these fires" when he spoke about illegal immigrants.
"The facts are clear. For years, federal, state and local officials have stated that smugglers and illegal immigrants have caused fires on our southern border," defended communications director Brooke Buchanan.
"During the press conference on Saturday, Senator McCain was referring to fires on the Arizona/Mexico border, not the Wallow fire," Buchanan added.
As to any specific documented proof that illegals may have been involved with starting any past conflagations, Buchanan pointed to a study that McCain and three colleagues requested from the Government Accountability Office last summer.
The report reportedly examines the connection between wildfires caused by illegal immigrants and smugglers occurring within 100 miles of Arizona's border with Mexico -- over the last five years.
The report is due out later this year, but nothing thus far offerred by McCain in way of mitigation seems to have satisfied critics that are charging racism.
Angelo Falcon, the president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, said to CNN, “The degree of irresponsible political pandering by Sen. McCain has no limits. With the lack of evidence, he might as well also blame aliens from outer space for the fires.”