While Canada Burns, Misinformation Blazes

As the wildfires in Canada rage on, questions as to what has made them so extreme have circulated across news sources and the general public alike.

4 min read
While Canada Burns, Misinformation Blazes

As the wildfires in Canada rage on, questions as to what has made them so extreme have circulated across news sources and the general public alike.

Wildfires are a natural occurence, including in Canada. Naturally, they tend to start via lighting strike, and clear dying vegetation and pests at the ground level, usually providing more of a benefit to the natural ecosystem as opposed to scorching it.1 The majority of wildfires are unnaturally caused by human interaction, be it campfires, cigarettes, or engine sparks.2

Climate scientists have established that increased drought conditions from climate change increase the amount of dry vegetation, aka “fuel” for fires, which increases their severity. More specifically, increased fuel means there’s a higher chance of a typical, less-dangerous ground fire from creeping up into the canopy of a forest and becomming a crown fire.3 It is these crown fires that we have seen in California and Australia in the past years, both of which had broken their local records, but Australia even became the 2nd most destructive wildfire in world history.4

As carbon dioxide continues to increase in atmospheric concentration, drought conditions are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity. For Canada, wildfire frequency, specifically crown fires, has been projected to increase by 30% to 140% by the end of the century.3 In the US, western forests have burned 10 times as much area in 2003-2012 than during 1973-1982; only a 3 decade difference.5 More drought means more dry, flammable fuel for fires. If sources of energy don't change, these incredibly dangerous phenomena will only become more common.

The fires are devestating, but we are fortunate enough to have firefighters who are brave enough to face them head on. However, wildfires are handled very differently than your typical housefire, and it has lead to some confusion in online audiences.

Several videos have circulated online of a helicopter flying over burning trees with a perplexing instrument attached to it: a flamethrower. Of course at first glance this seems counterintuitive, and many of the videos were captioned with “Helicopter starting a fire in Canada!” and titles of the like, all suggesting this instrument was used to start the fires intentionally. The comments were riddled with people believing governments are intentionally lighting fires, each with their own reasons. Some stated it was to promote the “lie” that climate change exists.

What is happening in these videos is known as a planned ignition, and is used to fight wildfires, not start them. Widlfires need fuel to keep spreading, and in pristine forests that fuel is almost unending. So, firefighters intentionally burn a perimeter around the blaze so that when the source fire reaches said perimeter, there is nothing left to burn and it eventually fizzles out. The British Columbia Twitter account recently put out updates that this planned ignition has been successful in securing 55km along the south flank of the fire. In the words of Mike Morrow, an ignition specialist: “We are taking the fuel out on our own terms rather than letting Mother Nature guide the project.”6

It is understandable that people would not immediately understand the logic behind, quite literally, fighting fire with fire. What is concerning is when many in those comments had people explain the helicopters to them, many of whom claimed to be firefighters themselves, there was still resistance.

This event is one of the many examples of how we are living in a post-fact world. Even when the evidence and explanation is given, there is still overwhelming resistance, even with no counterevidence. Furthermore, many in those comments were exasperatedly asking why the footage was not being covered on the news. Of course large news networks do not consider talking about clips such as that helicopter because they do not anticipate people will be spreading lies about its purpose, but this is the media climate we live in, where anyone has a platform to spread anything. If large media networks don’t discuss it, those with no obligation to be credible will discuss it for them, leading to mass campaigns of misinformation that people act on.

The wildfires in the past years have brought insurmountable amounts of destruction to our planet and the people on it. It is in our best interest to work against the problems that make them worse, and work against the lies spreading that can lead to delays in the battle against disaster.


1: Pausas, Juli G., and Jon E. Keeley. "Wildfires as an ecosystem service." Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 17.5 (2019): 289-295.

2: “Wildfire Causes and Evaluations” National Park Service. 2017. https://www.nps.gov/articles/wildfire-causes-and-evaluation.htm

3: Wotton, B. Mike, Mike D. Flannigan, and Ginny A. Marshall. 2017. Potential climate change impacts on fire intensity and key wildfire suppression thresholds in Canada. Environmental Research Letters 12:9: 095003.

4: Igini, Martina. "Top 12 Largest Wildfires in History." Earth.Org, 4 Sept. 2022, earth.org/largest-wildfires-in-history/. Accessed 10 Jun. 2023.

5: Jones, Matthew W., et al. "Climate change increases the risk of wildfires." ScienceBrief Review 116 (2020): 117.

6: Ibrahim, Nur. "Does Video Show Helicopters Starting the Canadian Wildfires?" Snopes, 8 Jun. 2023, www.snopes.com/fact-check/canadian-wildfires-helicopters/. Accessed 10 Jun. 2023.

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