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FBI offers reward for information about deadly southern New Mexico wildfires

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FBI offers reward for information about deadly southern New Mexico wildfires
News

News

FBI offers reward for information about deadly southern New Mexico wildfires

2024-06-23 23:47 Last Updated At:23:50

RUIDOSO, N.M. (AP) — Federal authorities offered a reward for information about those responsible for igniting a pair of New Mexico wildfires that killed two people and destroyed hundreds of homes in the past week.

The FBI on Saturday offered up to $10,000 for information in connection with the South Fork Fire and Salt Fire in southern New Mexico, which forced thousands to flee.

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A charred car and the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after being destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

RUIDOSO, N.M. (AP) — Federal authorities offered a reward for information about those responsible for igniting a pair of New Mexico wildfires that killed two people and destroyed hundreds of homes in the past week.

The remains of the Wild West Ski Shop, destroyed by the South Fork Fire, are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Wild West Ski Shop, destroyed by the South Fork Fire, are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car sits around a flattened home that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car sits around a flattened home that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, flanked by the mayor of Ruidoso Lynn Crawford, left, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe president Thora Walsh Padilla speaks during a media briefing in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, flanked by the mayor of Ruidoso Lynn Crawford, left, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe president Thora Walsh Padilla speaks during a media briefing in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell, far right, accompanied by local officials including New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, second from left, speaks during a media briefing in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell, far right, accompanied by local officials including New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, second from left, speaks during a media briefing in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Debris from a house that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire are shown in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Debris from a house that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire are shown in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured among the effects of flash floods in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured among the effects of flash floods in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Smoke rises off the remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Smoke rises off the remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred trees caused by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred trees caused by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

An elk is shown among charred trees caused by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

An elk is shown among charred trees caused by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred cars sit around a flattened home that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred cars sit around a flattened home that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A flattened house that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire is shown in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A flattened house that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire is shown in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car sits among the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car sits among the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The charred remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The charred remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The partially melted body of a car sits in the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The partially melted body of a car sits in the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred vehicles and debris cover the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred vehicles and debris cover the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The flattened remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The flattened remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The partially melted body of a car sits in the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The partially melted body of a car sits in the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The flattened remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The flattened remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car and the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car and the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

In this photo provided by Pam Bonner, smoke rises from fires in Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (Pam Bonner via AP)

In this photo provided by Pam Bonner, smoke rises from fires in Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (Pam Bonner via AP)

Rains, cooler weather help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

Rains, cooler weather help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

In this photo provided by Pam Bonner, smoke rises from fires in Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (Pam Bonner via AP)

In this photo provided by Pam Bonner, smoke rises from fires in Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (Pam Bonner via AP)

Rains, cooler weather help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

Rains, cooler weather help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

An agency statement said it was seeking public assistance in identifying the cause of the fires near Ruidoso, New Mexico, that were discovered June 17. The notice also pointedly suggested human hands were to blame, saying the reward was for information leading to the arrest and conviction of "the person or persons responsible for starting the fires.”

The South Fork Fire, which reached 26 square miles (67 square kilometers), was 26% contained on Saturday. The Salt Fire, at 12 square miles (31 square kilometers), was 7% contained as of Saturday morning, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Full containment was not expected until July 15.

Recent rains and cooler weather have assisted more than 1,000 firefighters working to contain the fires. Fire crews on Saturday took advantage of temperatures in the 70s Fahrenheit (21 to 26 Celsius), scattered showers and light winds to use bulldozers to dig protective lines. Hand crews used shovels in more rugged terrain to battle the fires near the mountain village of Ruidoso.

Elsewhere in New Mexico, heavy rain and flash flood warnings prompted officials to order some mandatory evacuations Friday in the city of Las Vegas, New Mexico; and communities near Albuquerque, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Ruidoso. Las Vegas set up shelters for displaced residents, and some evacuation orders remained in place there on Saturday.

Flash flood warnings were canceled Saturday, though the National Weather Service said afternoon storms could produce excessive runoff and more flooding in the area.

The wildfires have destroyed or damaged an estimated 1,400 structures. Other fallout from the fires, including downed power lines, damaged water, sewer and gas lines, flooding in burn scars, continued “to pose risks to firefighters and the public,” according to a Saturday update from the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Evacuations in areas near Ruidoso and road closures were still in effect. In Ruidoso, full-time residents will be allowed to return Monday, though everyday life won’t return to normal.

“You’re going to need to bring a week’s worth of food, you’re going to need to bring drinking water,” Mayor Lynn Crawford said on Facebook.

President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration for parts of southern New Mexico on Thursday, freeing up funding and more resources to help with recovery efforts including temporary housing, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property and other emergency work in Lincoln County and on lands belonging to the Mescalero Apache Tribe.

Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, met with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Crawford and Mescalero Apache President Thora Walsh Padilla on Saturday. “These communities have our support for as long as it takes to recover,” Criswell posted on the social media platform X.

Much of the Southwest has been exceedingly dry and hot in recent months. Those conditions, along with strong wind, whipped the flames out of control, rapidly advancing the South Fork Fire into Ruidoso in a matter of hours. Evacuations extended to hundreds of homes, businesses, a regional medical center and the Ruidoso Downs horse track.

Nationwide, wildfires have scorched more than 3,344 square miles (8,660 square kilometers) this year, a figure higher than the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

A charred car and the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after being destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car and the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after being destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Wild West Ski Shop, destroyed by the South Fork Fire, are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Wild West Ski Shop, destroyed by the South Fork Fire, are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car sits around a flattened home that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car sits around a flattened home that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, flanked by the mayor of Ruidoso Lynn Crawford, left, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe president Thora Walsh Padilla speaks during a media briefing in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, flanked by the mayor of Ruidoso Lynn Crawford, left, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe president Thora Walsh Padilla speaks during a media briefing in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell, far right, accompanied by local officials including New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, second from left, speaks during a media briefing in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell, far right, accompanied by local officials including New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, second from left, speaks during a media briefing in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Debris from a house that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire are shown in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Debris from a house that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire are shown in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured among the effects of flash floods in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured among the effects of flash floods in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Smoke rises off the remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Smoke rises off the remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred trees caused by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred trees caused by the South Fork Fire are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

An elk is shown among charred trees caused by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

An elk is shown among charred trees caused by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred cars sit around a flattened home that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred cars sit around a flattened home that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A flattened house that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire is shown in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A flattened house that was destroyed by the South Fork Fire is shown in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. Recent rains and cooler weather are helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car sits among the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car sits among the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The charred remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The charred remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The partially melted body of a car sits in the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The partially melted body of a car sits in the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred vehicles and debris cover the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Charred vehicles and debris cover the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The flattened remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The flattened remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The partially melted body of a car sits in the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The partially melted body of a car sits in the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet Hotel after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The flattened remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

The flattened remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car and the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A charred car and the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are shown after it was destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

In this photo provided by Pam Bonner, smoke rises from fires in Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (Pam Bonner via AP)

In this photo provided by Pam Bonner, smoke rises from fires in Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (Pam Bonner via AP)

Rains, cooler weather help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

Rains, cooler weather help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

In this photo provided by Pam Bonner, smoke rises from fires in Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (Pam Bonner via AP)

In this photo provided by Pam Bonner, smoke rises from fires in Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (Pam Bonner via AP)

Rains, cooler weather help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

Rains, cooler weather help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

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Minutes after Trump shooting, misinformation started flying. Here are the facts

2024-07-15 04:38 Last Updated At:04:40

WASHINGTON (AP) — Within minutes of the gunfire, the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump spawned a vast sea of claims — some outlandish, others contradictory — reflecting the frightening uncertainties of the moment as well as America's fevered, polarized political climate.

The cloudburst of speculation and conjecture as Americans turned to the internet for news about the shooting is the latest sign of how social media has emerged as a dominant source of information — and misinformation — for many, and a contributor to the distrust and turbulence now driving American politics.

Mentions of Trump on social media soared up to 17 times the average daily amount in the hours after the shooting, according to PeakMetrics, a cyber firm that tracks online narratives. Many of those mentions were expressions of sympathy for Trump or calls for unity. But many others made unfounded, fantastical claims.

“We saw things like ‘The Chinese were behind it,’ or ‘ Antifa was behind it,’ or ‘the Biden administration did it.' We also saw a claim that the RNC was behind it,’” said Paul Bartel, senior intelligence analyst at PeakMetrics. “Everyone is just speculating. No one really knows what's going on. They go online to try to figure it out.”

Here's a look at the claims that surfaced online following the shooting:

Many of the more specious claims that surfaced immediately after the shooting sought to blame Trump or his Democratic opponent, President Joe Biden, for the attack.

Some voices on the left quickly proclaimed the shooting to be a false flag concocted by Trump, while some Trump supporters suggested the Secret Service intentionally failed to protect Trump on the White House’s orders.

The Secret Service on Sunday pushed back on claims circulating on social media that Trump's campaign had asked for greater security before Saturday's rally and was told no.

“This is absolutely false,” agency spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote Sunday on X. “In fact, we added protective resources & technology & capabilities as part of the increased campaign travel tempo.”

Videos of the shooting were quickly dissected in partisan echo chambers and Trump supporters and detractors looked for evidence to support their beliefs. Videos showing Secret Service agents moving audience members away from Trump before the shooting were offered as evidence that it was an inside job. Images of Trump's defiantly raised fist were used to make the opposite claim — that the whole event was staged by Trump.

“How did the USSS allow him to stop and pose for a photo opp if there was real danger??” wrote one user, using the abbreviation for the U.S. Secret Service.

Social media bots helped amplify the false claims on platforms including Facebook, Instagram, X and TikTok, according to an analysis by the Israeli tech firm Cyabra, which found that a full 45% of the accounts using hashtags like #fakeassassination and #stagedshooting were inauthentic.

An image created using artificial intelligence — depicting a smiling Trump moments after the shooting — was also making the rounds, Cyabra found.

Conspiracy theories quickly emerged online that misidentified the suspected shooter, blamed other people without evidence and espoused hate speech, including virulent antisemitism.

“Moments like this are cannon fodder for extremists online, because typically they will react with great confidence to whatever has happened without any real evidence” said Jacob Ware, a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “People will fall into spirals and will advance their own ideologies and their own conclusions.”

Before authorities identified the suspect, photos of two different people circulated widely online falsely identifying them as the shooter.

In all the speculation and conjecture, others were trying to exploit the event financially. On X on Sunday morning, an account named Proud Patriots urged Trump supporters to purchase their assassination-attempt themed merchandise.

“First they jail him, now they try to end him,” reads the ad for the commemorative Trump Assassination Attempt Trading Card. “Stand Strong & Show Your Support!”

After the shooting, some Republicans blamed Biden for the shooting, arguing sustained criticisms of Trump as a threat to democracy have created a toxic environment. They pointed in particular to a comment Biden made to donors on July 8, saying “it’s time to put Trump in the bullseye.”

Ware said that comment from Biden was “violent rhetoric” that is “raising the stakes,” especially when combined with Biden’s existential words about the election. But he said it was important not to make conclusions about the shooter’s motive until we know more information. Biden's remarks were part of a broader approach to turn scrutiny on Trump, with no explicit call to violence.

Trump's own incendiary words have been criticized in the past for encouraging violence. His lies about the 2020 election and his call for supporters to “fight like hell” preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which led to his second impeachment on charges of incitement of insurrection. Trump also mocked the hammer attack that left 80-year-old Paul Pelosi, the husband of the former House speaker, with a fractured skull.

Surveys find that Americans overwhelmingly reject violence as a way to settle political differences, but overheated rhetoric from candidates and social media can motivate a small minority of people to act, said Sean Westwood, a political scientist who directs the Polarization Research Lab at Dartmouth College.

Westwood said he worries that Saturday's shooting could spur others to consider violence as a tactic.

“There is a real risk that this spirals,” he said. “Even if someone doesn’t personally support violence, if they think the other side does, and they witness an attempted political assassination, there is a real risk that this could lead to escalation.”

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Trump 2024 flag is raised outside of Trump Tower, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Trump 2024 flag is raised outside of Trump Tower, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

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