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Rumors of blazes started by antifa spreading as fast as fires

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 10, 2020

Fire erupts in sagebrush just off U.S. Highway 2 on the eastern edge of the 130,000-acre Whitney Fire west of Davenport. There are unfounded rumors circulating on social media that antifa is starting wildfires in the West.  (THOMAS CLOUSE/The Spokesman-Review)
Fire erupts in sagebrush just off U.S. Highway 2 on the eastern edge of the 130,000-acre Whitney Fire west of Davenport. There are unfounded rumors circulating on social media that antifa is starting wildfires in the West. (THOMAS CLOUSE/The Spokesman-Review)

Rumors that fires consuming thousands of acres across the West are being deliberately set by antifa or other groups were spreading on social media Thursday like, well, wildfire. And they may be just as hard to extinguish.

Officials with the Washington State Patrol and the state Department of Natural Resources said they fielded calls all afternoon about online reports claiming antifa was starting fires. There’s nothing to indicate that’s true, they said.

Some of the rumors point to the arrest of a man in Puyallup Wednesday who allegedly started a fire in grass in the median along state Route 167.

Jeffrey A. Acord was booked into that city’s jail on a misdemeanor charge of reckless burning after being arrested by the state patrol.

The fire was put out relatively quickly.

“We are unaware of any political affiliation he may have,” said Chris Loftis, communications director for the patrol. “He made no political statements.”

Acord posted video of the fire on Facebook while he was standing on the side of the road with law enforcement officers. He was wearing a black ball cap with “FBI” on it. He told officers he spotted the smoke while he was driving toward the area looking for a camera he had lost, and called 911 to report the fire.

He was released from jail at 1:43 a.m. Thursday after posting bail. He was arrested again at 3:13 a.m. after a gas station near the jail was burglarized and the incident was captured on a security camera.

He was booked into Pierce County jail on a felony burglary charge. The prosecutor is studying whether to upgrade the reckless burning charge to a felony, said Capt. Jason Visnaw, a public information officer for the Puyallup Police Department.

Visnaw said he couldn’t confirm or deny whether Acord has ties to any group.

“What his political affiliations are is not really a priority for us right now,” Visnaw said.

Rumors of antifa starting fires in Oregon were also disputed by law enforcement officials in Molalla – a city south of Portland where residents were evacuated as two fires were merging – and in Douglas County, an area south of Eugene with at least four fires burning, Portland’s KOIN-TV reported.

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