The Federal Bureau of Investigation became the latest law enforcement agency to implore people to stop spreading misinformation about the wildfires burning in Oregon and other West Coast states on Friday afternoon, Sept. 11.
"FBI Portland and local law enforcement agencies have been receiving reports that extremists are responsible for setting wildfires in Oregon," the FBI's Portland office wrote in a news release and on its social media pages. "With our state and local partners, the FBI has investigated several such reports and found them to be untrue. Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control. Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources."
Law enforcement agencies in areas of Oregon hit hard by the fire have expressed frustration at having to take time away from conducting evacuations in order to deal with people calling in to ask about false rumors that people associated with the Antifa or Black Lives Matter movements or the Proud Boys group had started the fires or been arrested for doing so.
The Medford Police Department shared an example on its Facebook page of a graphic claiming that members of Antifa had been arrested for starting the fire nearest Medford, stating, "
"This is a made up graphic and story. We did not arrest this person for arson, nor anyone affiliated with Antifa or 'Proud Boys' as we’ve heard throughout the day. Also, no confirmed gatherings of Antifa which has also been reported. Please flag or ignore this post if you see it."
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office put out a statement on its Facebook page asking people to stop spreading rumors from unofficial, unverified sources, stating that "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."
"THIS IS NOT TRUE!," the agency wrote. "Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems. Do your part, STOP. SPREADING. RUMORS!"
Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara told the Oregonian that while it appeared a fire near Ashland may have been human-caused and human remains were found on scene, rumors that any links to Antifa were found are "100% false information" and none of the department's leads pointed in that direction.
The Jackson County Sheriff's Office, where Ashland is located, also chimed in on Facebook.
"One increasingly problematic issue related to the disastrous fires in Jackson County is the spreading of false information. There are numerous FALSE reports of arrests and other situations over the past days that are the content of postings, fake stories and gossip," the sheriff's office stated. "When you see or hear a story please check official sources only to verify the information. Please don’t re-post and spread misinformation based on some unverified random post or meme. Rumors make the job of protecting the community more difficult."
They announced the next day that Michael Jarrod Bakkela, 41, had been arrested on charges of possession of methamphetamine, arson, criminal mischief and reckless endangering, but did not indicate any motives or political ties for Bakkela.
The sheriff's office also stated on Friday, Sept. 11 that rumors falsely claiming that the Level 3 evacuation had lifted in the Shady Cove area had caused problems as numerous people attempted to return to areas where fires were still burning.
Clackamas County Sheriff's Office sent out a release denying rumors that it had made any arrests in connection with fires there. The sheriff's office had previously confirmed that one fire in the county was caused by sparks from an RV pulling a Jeep down the highway.
Fire districts, forestry departments and other officials are asking people to do their part to stop the spread of fires, as well. Tips for preventing fires include:
- Never leave a fire or burning device such as a candle unattended, and make sure fires are fully out and saturated with water before you leave them.
- Use caution while using devices such as camp stoves and barbecue grills.
- Only burn yard waste inside a fire pit or metal drum, and make sure burning is allowed that day and it is not windy.
- Keep your vehicle in good repair and avoid anything that may cause sparks.
- Don't park hot vehicles over grass, and make sure tractors, chain saws, off road vehicles and other equipment being used have spark arrestors.
- Take appropriate care in discarding cigarette butts and never throw them out the window of a vehicle.
- Don't use fireworks.