News that two cousins from southern Arizona who left a campfire unattended have been charged with starting the largest wildfire in Arizona history has put U.S. Sen. John McCain in the hot seat.
After touring the fire site in June, McCain suggested that it was possible that illegal immigrants had caused the blaze.
"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," McCain said on June 18, according to KOLD News.
On Thursday, Hispanic leaders held a press conference to call for Senator McCain to apologize.
"He owes it to us to not spread fear and hate," said Daniel Ortega, a Phoenix attorney who is board chair of the National Council of La Raza, a national advocacy group, The Associated Press reports.
The Wallow Fire, which started on May 29 in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in eastern Arizona, burned for more than a month, destroying 840 square miles of ponderosa pine forests and displacing up to 10,000 people, Reuters reports. The fire also burned 32 homes, four commercial structures and 36 outbuildings. It cost more than $79 million to contain the blaze.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced that the government believes Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, and David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, campers from Benson and Tucson who did not extinguish their fire before they went on a hike, were to blame. The cousins will appear in federal court in Flagstaff, Ariz., in September. A conviction for each of the offenses charged in the complaint could result in up to six months in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.
McCain will not apologize, his office said. In a statement, McCain’s office said the Senator wasn't referring to the Wallow Fire when he said "some fires" were started by illegal immigrants and smugglers. McCain spokesman Brian Rogers told the AP that no apology is owed because the Forest Service had told the senator, during a briefing, that illegal immigrants have started some fires along the border. "You can't apologize for something that's 100 percent true," Rogers said.