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Canada wildfires: Why are firefighting helicopters shooting flames at burning forests?

This handout photo shows the town of Fort Smith, Canada during the wildfires, on August 13, 2023.
This handout photo shows the town of Fort Smith, Canada during the wildfires, on August 13, 2023. Copyright AFP PHOTO / DANA FERGUSSON
By Sophia Khatsenkova with AP
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Numerous social media users are misleadingly claiming firefighters are actually escalating the more than 400 wildfires raging in British Columbia, after sharing a viral video of a helicopter spraying flammable liquid.


A series of devastating wildfires have engulfed vast areas of forest in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories in Canada, forcing thousands to evacuate their homes. 

The country is having its worst wildfire season on record, with at least 1,000 fires burning across the country, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC).

Experts say climate change increases the risk of hot and dry weather that is likely to fuel the optimal conditions that lead to wildfires. 

But one video has puzzled a number of social media users and sparked conspiracy theories these Canadian forest fires have nothing to do with climate change but have rather been purposefully started by firefighting helicopters. 

The clip shows a helicopter flying above a forest filled with smoke, as a torch suspended from the chopper emits flames. The next shot shows a large area of the land on fire.

"Canada used drones with flame throwers attached to them and helicopters to start fires all across the country, [Justin] Trudeau called it climate change," tweeted one user.

"I live in Canada. They started the fires with drones and helicopters dropping fireballs," claimed another X account, formerly known as Twitter. 

By doing a reverse image search, The Cube found this clip is indeed real and was not doctored. 

However, the footage does not show the current wildfires in Canada. It dates back to June 2023 and was first posted on Youtube by British Columbia’s Wildfire Service. 

According to the description of the video, the clip shows a planned ignition on the Donnie Creek wildfire with a flame-throwing helicopter called a Heli-torch.

But, this doesn't mean the helicopters are intentionally escalating forest fires.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, it’s actually possible to fight fire with fire -- it's called a controlled burn.

Due to the fact, there's no way to spray enough water to put the wildfire out entirely, firefighters need to create a firebreak. "If you surround a fire with an area without any fuel to burn, it will eventually, go out," explains a Wired article.

“Planned ignitions are an essential wildfire management tool to remove forest fuels and bring the fire’s edge to established control lines with less intensity than free burning fire, thus reducing the ability for further spread,” explains British Columbia’s Wildfire Service.

In the US, these flame-throwing helicopters are used as a preventive measure. 

In California, authorities purposefully set fire to steep and dry land that was inaccessible to firefighters, in order to prevent wildfires from starting during the summer season. 

Similar videos of planned burns have been shared in the past to spread conspiracy theories during major wildfires or to discredit climate change.

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