Misinformation about wildfires raging across the US state of Oregon has been rife on social media, prompting local officials to try to dispel the rumours.
Unsubstantiated online claims blamed the fires on activists from two fringe groups – antifa, short for “anti-fascist”, and the nationalist Proud Boys group.
Both groups have been accused by politicians, law enforcement and some commentators of encouraging and participating in violence during anti-racism protests in the US, including regular confrontations in Portland, Oregon’s largest city.
Dozens of posts with bogus wildfire allegations were shared across multiple social networks – the most popular were shared thousands of times.
As a result, some local law enforcement agencies say they have been overwhelmed with requests based on false information.
“Rumors spread just like wildfire,” the sheriff’s office in southern Oregon’s Douglas County wrote on Facebook on Thursday.
“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”.
The sheriff’s office in neighbouring Jackson County also said they were “inundated with questions” about fake stories and urged members of the public to verify information and check official sources.
“Rumors make the job of protecting the community more difficult,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.
Similarly, the police department in the city of Medford in Jackson County took to social media to debunk a fake screenshot circulated online that uses its logo and a photo from an unrelated arrest.
The false post suggested that five people had been arrested “in connection with a string of fires”.
“We did not arrest this person for arson, nor anyone affiliated with Antifa or ‘Proud Boys’ as we’ve heard throughout the day,” police said, adding that “no confirmed gatherings of Antifa” had been reported in the area.
Journalists reporting on the fires outside the town of Molalla, about 30 miles from Portland, said on Twitter that they had been asked to leave by armed people concerned by the rumours about arsonists in the area.
And a Portland videographer who came to Molalla to take footage of the blazes said he was reported to the police by locals who thought he and his partner were antifa arsonists.
Fanned by unusually hot, dry winds, dozens of fires have been sweeping Oregon, on the west coast of the US.
At least one of those, the Almeda Fire, which started in Ashland near the California border, is being treated as suspicious.
It has been linked to at least two deaths and destroyed hundreds of homes.
Although the investigation is ongoing, Ashland police chief Tighe O’Meara told the Oregonian newspaper that no leads pointed towards members of the the antifa movement.
“One thing I can say is that the rumor it was set by Antifa is 100% false information,” he told the paper.
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