Video shows prescribed burn in US wetlands, not wildfires

Social media posts share a video of a man using a torch to ignite portions of a wetland alongside claims that wildfires are intentionally set to provide evidence of climate change. But the clip shows a prescribed burn, a tool used to prevent and contain blazes -- and scientists say the surge in fire activity has been exacerbated by global warming.

"Real climate change caught on camera," says text over an August 21, 2023 Facebook reel that shows an airboat zipping through a wetland as a man uses a torch to shoot fire into the brush.

"This it (sic) what they are doing is not global warming. There is absolutely no reason to be burning marsh land like this," says another post linking to the video on BitChute.

The same video circulated in posts linking to a Canadian Telegram channel. Similar claims spread on Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, in Spanish and Japanese.

<span>Screenshot of a Facebook reel taken August 25, 2023</span>
Screenshot of a Facebook reel taken August 25, 2023

The posts follow deadly wildfires in the US state of Hawaii -- as well as blazes in Greece, the Spanish island of Tenerife and Canada, where tens of thousands of people in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories were evacuated.

In Canada, scientists found climate change "more than doubled the likelihood of extreme fire weather conditions" (archived here). The US National Weather Service warned of "dangerous fire weather conditions" in the days before the Hawaii inferno began (archived here).

The exact causes of recent forest fires around the world are still under investigation, but posts about the wetlands video are misleading -- they are the latest to misrepresent footage of prescribed burns, which are a common firefighting tactic.

Clip from California

The person using the flame torch in the video is wearing a red life vest that says "US Fish and Wildlife Service" (FWS) on the back.

A spokesperson for the agency told AFP in an August 24 email: "The video you are referring to was taken at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in California, where US Fish and Wildlife Service firefighters were carrying out prescribed fire in a wetland via an airboat."

A reverse image search surfaced a February 16 post with the video on X (archived here).

"Our fire personnel @ Sacramento NWR (CA) completed a #rxfire via airboat and terra torch - allowing them to reach areas of the wetland that are normally inaccessible," the FWS said in the caption.

The agency spokesperson said the fire was intentionally set during the "dormant" season, and that officials used a terra torch to propel "an ignited stream of fire safely and effectively into a desired target area."

The lower intensity of the flames "are safer and easier for firefighters to control," said Jennifer Hinckley, an FWS regional fire management coordinator, in a 2021 blog post (archived here).

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge also shared the video on Facebook in February, saying: "Conducting prescribed fire ensures that the chance of catastrophic wildfires are diminished."

Parks Canada says such burns can "help maintain good habitat for many large mammals, particularly elk, moose, sheep, deer, wolves and bears" (archived here).

The FWS spokesperson agreed, saying: "Regular, prescribed fire promotes healthy wetland habitat conditions for wildlife by returning nutrients to the marsh, stimulating new plant growth and thinning out standing dead material under conditions that can be controlled."

AFP has fact-checked other misleading claims about wildfires here.