Sen. John McCain tries to answer a question during a town hall meeting at St. Mark's United Methodist Church on Tuesday Aug. 9, 2011 in Tucson, Ariz. An angry crowd of constituents voiced their frustration at McCain over issues ranging from characterizing "tea-party" members as "hobbits" to the nation's faltering economy. (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Benjie Sanders) MANDATORY CREDITAP2011
Since two U.S. citizens have been federally charged for Arizona's largest wildfire in June, Latino leaders are calling on John McCain to apologize for saying that undocumented immigrants have started "some fires" – but it seems the senator isn't going to apologize anytime soon.
The group of activists and politicians accused McCain of race-baiting Thursday for implying that undocumented immigrants were behind the Wallow Fire. Former state Rep. John Loredo, D-Phoenix, and others said McCain's comments were part of blanket statements that link to demonizing undocumented immigrants.
"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.
Two men in southern Arizona have been charged in connection with the out-of-control fire in June.
McCain's office responded with a statement saying McCain wasn't referring to the Wallow Fire when he said "some fires" were started by undocumented immigrants and smugglers to warm themselves or distract Border Patrol officers.
No apology is owed or coming because the Forest Service had told McCain during a briefing that illegal immigrants have started some fires along the border, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said.
"You can't apologize for something that's 100 percent true." Rogers said.
McCain's contention that undocumented immigrants have started fires is supported by recent testimony to a congressional panel by a Forest Service official, Assistant Deputy Chief Jim Peña. He said Forest Service investigations were able to identify individuals responsible in 31 of 457 human-caused fires from 2002-2011 in Coronado National Forest areas along the U.S.-Mexico-border.
"Of those 31 fires, it was determined that undocumented aliens were responsible for starting five," Peña said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office on Wednesday announced the filing of a criminal complaint accusing two cousins from Benson and Tucson of accidentally starting the Wallow Fire by leaving a campfire unattended.
Winds whipped the fire as it burned more than 538,000 acres in eastern Arizona and parts of western New Mexico, destroying 32 homes, four commercial structures and 36 outbuildings.
It cost more than $79 million to fight the blaze before firefighters and monsoon rains eventually put out the flames.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.