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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke June 13, 2023

No, this video doesn’t show that weapons ignited Canada’s wildfires

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  • Canada’s wildfires were largely caused by lightning. 

A recent video in a Facebook post suggests that weapons ignited wildfires burning in Canada.

"Let’s take a look at the next lab radar," the video’s narrator says 45 seconds in, as satellite imagery appears on screen. "Here we can see these fires all starting at one time. What in the world could cause such a thing to happen? Well I have my ideas from purposely mismanaged forests, military exercises, direct energy weapons." 

The video eventually cuts to someone discussing a "directed energy weapon system" — weapons like lasers that use energy fired at the speed of light — and then proceeds to show footage of wildfires, smoky skies, and a clip of flames expelled onto treetops from a helicopter. 

This post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

As of June 7, more than 2,300 wildfires have burned in Canada in 2023, including 186 fires that were considered out of control and 107 under control. But a recent CBC News report debunked the idea that these fires sparked at the same time due to nefarious meddling actors. 

"This is actually really common imagery when it comes to lightning started wildfires and the explanation has everything to do with meteorology," CBC News meteorologist, seismologist and scientist Johanna Wagstaffe said in the June 9 report. In short: Lightning strikes that can spark new wildfires are often accompanied by thunderstorms that can keep the fires from growing out of control. But once those areas dry out in the daytime heat, and afternoon winds sweep through, those smoldering fires can start to spread at the same time.

We’ve already examined claims that the wildfires in Canada were planned. That’s false. The video in the Facebook post also uses old imagery that could mislead viewers. After suggesting that weapons could be used to start these fires, the video shows the clip of flames dropping down on trees from a helicopter. 

But that clip is old, and has been misused in claims about wildfires since at least 2022. We fact-checked an Instagram post that year that said it showed California setting its own forest fires and then claiming they were caused by climate change. In reality, the clip showed a flamethrower mounted to a helicopter that’s known as a helitorch.

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Such devices are used in controlled burns and planned ignitions, strategies to prevent and slow wildfires, respectively. 

Jean Strong, a British Columbia Wildfire Service spokesperson, told PolitiFact recently that similar footage that’s been mischaracterized on social media shows firefighters responding to an out-of-control fire with a planned ignition. 

"The goal is to remove the majority of available fuel ahead of the wildfire so there’s less fuel available for the wildfire to burn," Strong said. "This strategy slows down and helps limit the spread of the wildfire." 

So, what is causing wildfires in Canada? 

In most cases: warm, dry conditions that cause lightning.

"Most fires in the boreal forest of northern Canada are started by lightning," Edward Struzik, a fellow at Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen's University in Canada told CBS News. "A 1-degree Celsius increase in temperature amounts to about 12% more lightning. So, the warmer it gets as the climate heats up, the more triggers there are for fires to burn."

The fires in Quebec were started by lightning, though humans are responsible for some other flames in the country via an improperly discarded cigarette or sparks from a passing train, CBS reported. 

But this video doesn’t support the suggestion that all fires in Canada were simultaneously ignited with weapons. 

We rate that claim False.


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No, this video doesn’t show that weapons ignited Canada’s wildfires

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