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A couple of people were charged with arson in connection to wildfires in California. Is there an update? Discover if they were politically motivated.

California wildfires update: Were they started by arsonists?

The wildfires rage on in one of the worst wildfire seasons ever. The skies over California are still orange. Hellish landscapes photographed from there look like something out of Blade Runner, or like we colonized Mars. Smoke warnings were issued in parts of California, Oregon, and Washington. Mass evacuations are underway. 

Every fall, a combination of a dry, hot summer & little rainfall makes the West Coast susceptible to wildfires. However, not all California wildfires this year are caused by ripe conditions. While accidents or negligence causes most wildfires, some are being deliberately set. 

Two people were arrested for arson last week for deliberately setting parts of California & Oregon ablaze. This is on top of a botched gender reveal party responsible for a wildfire in El Dorado & circulating rumors about wildfires deliberately set by activists. What’s up with arson during the California wildfire season? Let’s take a look. 

Highway 101

A woman was arrested last week for deliberately setting wildfires along Route 101. Anita Esquivel was arrested & booked after someone spotted her setting fires along 101 at 9 AM on September 10. She’s being charged with arson. Officials didn’t release how many fires she intentionally started, according to KION. 

The story on KION was updated to clarify that officials don’t have evidence that she’s a part of Antifa, a left-wing movement that promotes combating fascism by any means necessary. 

Michael Jarrod Bakkela

In Oregon, Michael Jarrod Bakkela was arrested for setting wildfires. Initially, police booked him for a probation violation, possessing methamphetamine. Then, police charged Bakkela in connection with wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes and merged with the Almeda wildfire. 

“There are numerous homes, many of which are burnt completely, some are just heavily damaged, that are part of the 15 counts of criminal mischief,” police chief Mike Moran told ABC news. 

Bakkela was charged with two counts of arson and fifteen counts of criminal mischief after police linked evidence to him. Police haven’t specified which evidence they could link Bakkela with, likely because it’s an ongoing investigation. Bakkela denies starting the fires that the police are charging him with. 

Is it political? 

The FBI fielded numerous reports of left-wing & right-wing activists starting wildfires in California and along the West Coast. Rumors circulate social media, including some posted by freelance journalists and former political candidates according to ABC7. 

The FBI released a statement Thursday trying to squash numerous rumors plugging up their tip line about activists starting wildfires. 

“Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away from local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control. Please help our entire community by only sharing validated information from official sources,” their statement said. 

As for the arsons set in California & Oregon, the FBI is treating them as isolated incidents, not a part of a vast conspiracy. “Though some agencies have made arrests related to arson recently, they appear to all be separate individuals, however as with many incidents, it will be an ongoing investigation in each jurisdiction.” the FBI said on Facebook. 

Local police & fire departments also fed up with rumors

Matt Lowery of the East Pierce Fire & Rescue in southern Seattle, WA, took to Facebook to express the department’s exhaustion, having to protect people’s lives & homes and dispel unfounded rumors. 

“I also want to address an issue that keeps coming up, even from some of the public that we are talking to while working. It is hot, dry, and fire spreads quickly in those conditions. There is nothing to show its Antifa or Proud Boys setting fires. Wait for information,” he wrote Thursday. 

Meanwhile, police in Oregon are debunking multiple rumors that Antifa or Proud Boys were arrested in connection with the wildfires. Oregon police knocked down a fake graphic connecting Proud Boys with a wildfire arson in 2018. 

“Remember when we said rumors make this already difficult incident even harder? Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON,” A Douglas, Co. Sheriff posted. 

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