June 6, 2011
For nearly a month, one of the country’s largest wildfires has been burning out of control in Arizona, spreading smoke and ash into neighboring states, including New Mexico. The fire has burned over 70,000 acres of national forest not far from the border with Mexico, and many Arizonans are pretty sure what caused the costly disaster: illegal immigrants hiding in the mountains.
Some say it was accidental; others say it was set as an intentional diversion to escape from Border Patrol agents. Fire officials have ruled out lightning as a cause, and concluded that the blaze was likely sparked by one or more individuals whose citizenship status cannot be determined from burn patterns. [In Photos: Electric Earth]
Disasters often spawn rumors and speculation. Last year, when floods inundated parts of Pakistan, rumors spread that powerful government officials and rich landowners had intentionally flooded poorer areas by selectively breaching levees. Those rumors were denied by government engineers, who were said to be part of the cover-up. Even the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti was rumored to have been intentionally caused by unknown governments using top-secret experimental seismic devices.