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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke October 20, 2022

Video shows controlled burn, not climate change hoax

If Your Time is short

  • This video shows a helitorch — an aerial ignition device attached to a helicopter that firefighters use to combat or prevent forest fires. 

A video of an aerial view of trees being torched below has been fodder for conspiracy theories over the years. Debunked claims in 2020 said it showed a Chinese spy setting fires in the United States, and a drone setting wildfires on the West Coast. 

Now it’s being used as evidence of a climate change hoax. 

"Soooooo… THIS is our TRUE climate change… got it," one Instagram post sharing the video said. 

"Apparently California sets their own forest fires and claims them as climate change effects!!!" another said. 

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

Featured Fact-check

The video shows a flamethrower mounted to a helicopter that’s involved in a controlled burn, a standard firefighting tactic to keep forests healthy, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesperson told PolitiFact in 2020.  

A helitorch, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, is "an aerial ignition device hung from or mounted on a helicopter to disperse ignited lumps of gelled gasoline. Used for backfires, burnouts or prescribed burns." 


The video was posted on social media in August 2020 and credited to an Instagram account with the username @joshua.payet, which appears to no longer exist on the social media platform. The account told Agence France-Presse in 2020 that he had filmed the video and was a trained firefighter but he wouldn’t reveal where the footage was taken. 

"Heli-torch," read the caption in the Aug. 21, 2020, Instagram post sharing the video. "Fighting fire with fire. … We are not just burning the forest. This is a tactic to fight a brush fire." 

We rate claims that this footage shows fires that California alleges were caused by climate change False.

Our Sources

Instagram post, Oct. 17, 2022

Instagram post, Oct. 17, 2022

National Wildfire Coordinating Group, Helitorch, visited Oct. 19, 2022

Facebook post, Aug. 21, 2020

Instagram post, Aug. 21, 2020

PolitiFact, Twitter video does not show a drone starting West Coast wildfires, Sept. 16, 2020

Agence France-Presse, No, this video has circulated in reports about US firefighters starting controlled fires to stop spread of wildfires, Sept. 22, 2020

National Geographic, Controlled Burning, visited Oct. 19, 2022 

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Video shows controlled burn, not climate change hoax

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