WSP chief: No evidence of organized arson in Washington blazes

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Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste

OLYMPIA — The Washington State Patrol’s top cop sees no co connection between the state’s massive wildfires and organized terrorism.

Chief John Batiste on Friday helped shoot down rumors of political activists intentionally setting fires which have burned since Labor Day. He said the State Patrol has made two arrests of suspected arsonists in Pierce County, but despite fast-spreading rumors on Facebook and elsewhere, his agency sees no organized effort to cause such destruction.

Both arrests took place along state highways, Batiste said, with police either spotting people allegedly setting fire or responding to witness reports.

“We have no indication that there’s a linkage between those two individuals,” Batiste said in a press conference. “We know that there’s a lot of rumors spreading around on social media about an organized effort to set fires, but we have no knowledge of that. We’ve not been able to discover any of that in conversations throughout the fire community and amongst law enforcement.”

Other police agencies, including those in fire-stricken Oregon, have urged the public not to embrace baseless conspiracy theories about the fires. The Medford Police Department disavowed a false Facebook post attributed to their agency which claimed five arsonists linked to the far-right Proud Boys organization had been arrested for setting fires in the area. The sheriff’s office of Douglas County, Oregon likewise debunked rumors Thursday that six anti-fascist provocateurs had been arrested in that area’s fire emergency.

“Do your part, STOP. SPREADING. RUMORS!” the Roseburg-based police agency said in its own Facebook post. “Follow official sources of information such as local emergency response websites and pages, government websites and pages and local reputable news outlets.”

The starting points and circumstances of most of the Northwest’s large fires remain under investigation. In many cases, officials have said the fires appear to be human-caused, but have not specifically identified them as products of arson.