Facts Matter: Political groups aren't responsible for starting western wildfires

  • This photo taken by Talent, Ore., resident Kevin Jantzer shows the destruction of his hometown as wildfires ravaged the central Oregon town near Medford late Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. There's no evidence that the wildfires ravaging the West were set by extremists of the far left or right.

    This photo taken by Talent, Ore., resident Kevin Jantzer shows the destruction of his hometown as wildfires ravaged the central Oregon town near Medford late Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. There's no evidence that the wildfires ravaging the West were set by extremists of the far left or right. Kevin Jantzer via AP

  • Rubble remains from an area destroyed by the Almeda Fire, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Talent, Ore. There's no evidence that the wildfires ravaging the West were set by extremists of the far left or right.

    Rubble remains from an area destroyed by the Almeda Fire, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Talent, Ore. There's no evidence that the wildfires ravaging the West were set by extremists of the far left or right. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/19/2020 6:10 PM

As firefighters battled wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, false information on the internet raged out of control.

Various posts on social media said arsonists started the fires, blaming both far-left and far-right groups, according to The Associated Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But several claims of arson that were investigated by the FBI were found to be untrue.

Washington firefighter Matt Lowery took to Facebook to address the issue.

"It is hot, dry, and fire spreads quickly in those conditions," he wrote. "There is nothing to show it's Antifa or Proud Boys setting fires. Wait for information."

The Mason County Sheriff's office in Washington said there is an ongoing investigation but there didn't appear to be a coordinated effort.

"Though some agencies have made arrests related to arson recently, they appear to all be separate individuals," the agency said.

Trump doesn't back up coronavirus claims

President Donald Trump, during a town hall last week, offered some false and misleading claims about COVID-19.

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Although many scientists have said a credible vaccine to fight the coronavirus will not be available until next year at the earliest, the president said, "We're very close to having the vaccine," according to The Washington Post.

"You know, could be three weeks, four weeks, but we think we have it," Trump said.

Officials associated with manufacturing a vaccine said they would not rush the process for political reasons, the Post said. It will also likely take months to make a safe vaccine available to most of the country.

Trump also claimed there was a shortage of ventilators "because the cupboards were bare when we took it over."

But the Strategic National Stockpile had 16,660 working ventilators when the pandemic began in the U.S., the Post said, which turned out to be enough to deal with the initial surge of the virus. That was essentially the number of ventilators in the stockpile when President Barack Obama left office in January 2017.

Fake IDs not registered as Democrats

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials recently issued a news release to report that 19,888 fake driver's licenses, mostly from China and Hong Kong, were seized at O'Hare International Airport during the first half of this year, according to The Associated Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The fake IDs "were for various people in different states," with most headed to college-age individuals, the release said.

However, some social media users added a false claim before sharing information from this report.

"Feds seize 19,888 fake state driver's licenses (made in China) in Chicago O'Hare Airport -- ALL Registered to Vote -- ALL Democrat!," read several Facebook posts that were viewed more than 3 million times.

That claim is "unsubstantiated and extremely unlikely," the AP said. There is no evidence the incident involved voter fraud or the license numbers were tied to Democratic voters.

To register to vote, an applicant must provide proof of identity and proof of residence, along with a driver's license number. Without that, or when using an out-of-state license, a Social Security number is required. Those numbers are cross-referenced to determine eligibility.

"(The fake IDs) are pieces of plastic. That's all they are," David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, told the AP. "They do not have matching records in any official database."

National elections expert John Lindback, with the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, told the AP that it would be nearly impossible to commit fraud in this manner.

"In order to register that number of people on a fraudulent basis, you'd have to come up with 19,000 verifiable Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers," he said.

UFO identified as a blimp

A saucer-shaped aircraft with a bright light in the center was seen hovering over New Jersey earlier this month.

"Who else saw the UFO today in Jersey on (Route) 21?" a TikTok user wrote in a Sept. 14 post that included video of the out-of-focus unidentified flying object. The clip showed several people stopped along the road.

But the flying object was identified as a Goodyear Blimp, according to Snopes.com. The video was viewed millions of times on social media over just a few days.

The footage was taken near MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., where the New York Giants were hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Monday Night Football game.

The blimp was flying in the vicinity of the stadium to take aerial shots during the football game, a Goodyear spokesman told Insider.com.

The bright light seen on the center of the blimp was likely a screen mounted on the side of many Goodyear blimps used to display digital messages, Snopes said.

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at boboswald33@gmail.com.

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