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

Social media rekindles misinformation about California wildfires while Canada burns

If Your Time is short

  • This claim originated in 2018. It was wrong then, too. Recent research has found that a surge in wildfires in California is largely attributable to climate change.

A recent Instagram post claims that wildfires raging in Canada for the past several weeks are distracting Americans from what’s happening stateside.

"This is a distraction, you are actively being lied to," says a narrator in a video shared in the June 8 post as several images and maps are displayed. "The attention is on Canada, but in reality, most of the United States is on fire right now as we speak. Here is your proof: An orange dot means there is a fire and the USA is covered in them. That leaves one question. Are these wildfires planned? Yes. They are distracting you from the bullet train that’s set to premiere in the USA in 2030. California’s wildfires line up exactly in the same path as the highly anticipated California high speed rail system. Hm, weird. They aren’t random like the news wants you to believe. The fires are caused by Lokheed Martin Athena directed energy weapons on the nose of planes. They’re designed to make a clear path through the houses and businesses that block the expansion of the Bullet Train." 

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.)

A lot is wrong in this post, but maybe most problematic is that the claim California wildfires were intentionally set to clear land for a high-speed rail system is from 2018. So, if Canada’s wildfires are supposed to distract from that, they’re about five years late.


In the video, one map shows a quadrant of the United States with numbered orange circles. In Florida, there’s a circle with the number 52, signaling 52 fires in that region. In North Carolina? About 20 more, among several other scattered wildfires. 

Featured Fact-check

The map comes from, a Canadian website that gives fire smoke forecasts in North America. But when we viewed the map June 12, the map looked nothing like what’s seen in the video. Only seven fires were noted in Florida, for example, and far fewer elsewhere in the country. 

Another map displayed in the video shows swaths of red throughout California. They’re described as the state’s wildfires lining up "exactly in the same path" as a planned high-speed rail system. 

But the map, shared in November 2018 by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, didn’t show active wildfires. Rather, it’s an illustration of what parts of the state that day were under a red flag warning, meaning that warm temperatures, low humidities and strong winds were expected to increase fire danger there.

When we checked an incident map of active emergency fires in California as of June 13, only one was listed.

It’s true that California is trying to build a high-speed rail system that spans San Francisco and Sacramento to Los Angeles and San Diego, but only a 117-mile "starter" line connecting some cities in the middle of the state is supposed to be completed by 2030 (and few expect construction to meet that deadline, according to The New York Times.)

More importantly, there’s no evidence to support claims that wildfires have been started in California — then or now — to make way for tracks. Rather, a peer-reviewed study published June 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the recent surge in catastrophic wildfires in the state is almost entirely caused by climate change. That means baseless claims they were caused by laser weapons are out, too. 

We rate this post False.


Our Sources

Instagram post, June 8, 2023

The New York Times, How California’s Bullet Train Went Off the Rails, Oct. 9, 2022

California High-Speed Rail Authority, 2023 PROJECT UPDATE REPORT, visited June 12, 2023

California High-Speed Rail Authority map, visited June 12, 2023

USA Today, Climate change fueled California's recent surge in catastrophic wildfire seasons, study says, June 12, 2023, Current forecast, visited June 12, 2023, Meme Recycles Conspiracy Theory on California Wildfires, Aug. 26, 2020

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Current Emergency Incidents, visited June 12, 2023

Cal Fire tweet, Nov. 11, 2018


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Social media rekindles misinformation about California wildfires while Canada burns

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