Officials dealing with the catastrophic fires on the West Coast have had to counter social media rumors that the blazes were set by antifascist activists, publicly pleading that people verify information before sharing it.
Despite their efforts, misinformation about the origin of the fires continues to spread on Facebook and Twitter.
Several law enforcement agencies in Oregon said they had been flooded with inquiries about rumors that activists were responsible. On Thursday, several journalists reporting on fires near the city of Molalla, Ore., said they had been confronted by a group of armed people who were worried about unverified reports of arsonists in the area.
The rumors appear to have started on Wednesday night, after the Portland Police Bureau warned people on Twitter about the risk of fire during demonstrations. But there is no evidence that activists have deliberately set fires.
“We’re not seeing any indications of a mass politically influenced arson campaign,” said Joy Krawczyk, a spokeswoman with the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Three law enforcement agencies in Oregon did announce on Thursday that the Almeda Fire, which incinerated neighborhoods and is linked to two deaths, may have been deliberately set. No suspects were publicly identified, but the Ashland police chief told The Oregonian that no information pointed toward the loose collective of antifascist activists known as antifa.
“One thing I can say is that the rumor it was set by Antifa is 100% false information,” Chief Tighe O’Meara told the newspaper in an email.