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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke September 15, 2020

No, wildfires don’t stop at the US-Canada border

If Your Time is short

  • A map being used to illustrate that the wildfires ravaging the West Coast stop at the U.S.-Canada border only uses U.S. data. There have also been wildfires in Canada this summer. 
  • Some social media posts have suggested this map disproves claims that the fires are connected to climate change. While most wildfires in the United States are ignited by humans, they are exacerbated by climate change, according to climate scientists.

Some social media users are using a map of wildfires in the United States to illustrate a political point: that the flames can’t be caused by climate change because they stop at the nation’s borders. 

The map shows red markers depicting where fires are burning in the states. There are no such markings north or south of the U.S. border. 

A screenshot of a tweet from the actor James Woods shows the map. 

"Hey, Governor Newsom, why does ‘climate change’ stop abruptly at the Canadian border?" he wrote, addressing California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who described the fires in his state as a "climate damn emergency." 

Facebook posts sharing the screenshot were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

The tweet in which Woods shared the map has been deleted. But other Twitter users have also tweeted about it, and drawn the attention of climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, the director of the Texas Tech Climate Center who has contributed to multiple National Climate Assessment reports.  

"The latest disinformation circling the twittersphere asks why the impacts of climate change appear to stop at the Canadian border," she tweeted on Sept. 13. "The answer is simple: because US maps only show US data."

The natural resources department in Canada keeps updated information about the wildfires in its country here. As of Sept. 9, the last time the "National Wildland Fire Situation Report" was updated, there were five uncontrolled fires, 11 that weren’t anticipated to grow considering the current circumstances, and 47 controlled fires, meaning they’re contained and will be extinguished. 

"Following a years-long series of extreme wildland fire seasons, 2020 has been one of Canada’s quietest since the 1990s," the agency says on its website. 

In the United States, meanwhile, 87 large, active fires have burned more than 4.6 million acres in 10 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Only four fires are contained. 

Hayhoe also addressed this difference between the two countries in a Twitter thread addressing "popular wildfire myths." She said that while Canada has fewer wildfires "at the moment," it will have more than the U.S. at another point. "That’s weather, a single day, week or year. Climate change is the long-term trend over decades," she wrote. 

Some social media posts have shared this map and suggested that it disproves that the fires are connected to climate change, something that affects the entire world and is not sequestered to the United States. Online, people are arguing about what caused the fires — poor forest management, arsonists, or global warming. Most wildfires in the lower 48 states are ignited by humans, but they’re burning a much greater area due to drier conditions caused by climate change, Hayhoe said.   

As we’ve previously reported, climate change has affected the environments where the fires are burning on the West Coast right now, making them more conducive to wildfire. Experts have told us unequivocally that climate change has contributed to the frequency, intensity and scope of wildfires there. 

We rate this Facebook post False.


Our Sources

Facebook post, Sept. 12, 2020

BBC News, US wildfires fuelled by climate change, California governor says, Sept. 12, 2020

James Woods tweet, Sept. 12, 2020

Katharine Hayhoe tweet, Sept. 13, 2020

Natural Resources Canada, National Wildland Fire Situation Report, visited Sept. 14, 2020

National Interagency Fire Center, Daily report, visited Sept. 14, 2020

Katharine Hayhoe tweet, Sept. 14, 2020

Los Angeles Times, How climate change is fueling record-breaking California wildfires, heat and smog, Sept. 13, 2020

The Associated Press, Easing fires not as simple as climate change vs. forest work, Sept. 14, 2020

PolitiFact, Climate change created conditions for the West Coast fires, experts say, Sept. 15, 2020

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More by Ciara O'Rourke

No, wildfires don’t stop at the US-Canada border

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