SENATOR JOHN McCAIN RELEASES NEW GAO REPORT ON WILDFIRES ALONG THE ARIZONA-MEXICO BORDER
November 22, 2011
Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today released a new government study conducted by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) on human-caused wildfires along the Arizona-Mexico border. The study determined that 30 out of 77 wildfires investigated by federal officials along the Arizona-Mexico border between 2006 and 2010 were caused by illegal border crossers. The GAO report, which was requested by Senator McCain in July 2010, examined more than 2,000 fires ranging in size from about one acre to several thousand acres and found that 99 percent of the land burned in the Arizona border region was from human-caused wildfires. GAO estimates that the federal government spent $33 million fighting human-caused fires along the Arizona-Mexico border between 2006 and 2010.
“This independent GAO study again confirms what U.S. Forest Service and local officials in Arizona have long known: That some of the fires along the Arizona-Mexico border are caused by people crossing the border illegally,” said Senator McCain. “The report further found that firefighting activities have sometimes been delayed while waiting for law enforcement escorts as protection from armed smugglers, which could cause fires to grow larger and more damaging. I hope this report is a lesson to the activists and public officials that would prefer to engage in partisan character attacks rather than help focus the discussion on the vital need secure our southern border.”
Since the study was initiated in 2010, GAO was unable to take into account the 2011 fire season -- the worst in Arizona history -- which included the Horseshoe Two and Monument fires. Those two fires combined burned over 250,000 acres near the Arizona-Mexico border -- more than twice the total of all large fires studied by GAO -- destroyed over 60 homes and cost taxpayers at least $70 million in fire suppression activities.
Other key findings of the study, entitled “Arizona Border Region: Federal Agencies Could Better Utilize Law Enforcement Resources in Support of Wildland Fire Management Activities”:
· GAO found that fire suppression activities are sometimes delayed, particularly at night, while firefighters wait for law enforcement escorts as protection against armed smugglers. As a result, firefighters may forgo or delay missions which in turn may allow fires to grow larger and more damaging, the report says.
· GAO found that federal agencies are not investigating all human-caused fires along the border, as called for by agency policy. Only 18% of fires on federal land during the five year study period were actually investigated and thus the number and size of fires linked to illegal border crossers may actually be higher.