Wildfires in California and other western states are getting worse every year, but is climate change all to blame? We explain.
The claim: Photo of napping firefighters shows first responders to West Coast wildfires
As wildfires continue to blaze across the West Coast, misinformation about who’s involved is tearing across the internet.
“All we seem to see in the media is stories about rioters and protesters. These are some of the firefighters in California fighting fires 24/7 to save people’s lives and property and they seem to get little-to-no mention,” Robert Quinn posted on Facebook on Sept. 10 with a photo of firefighters napping on a sidewalk.
“THESE are my heroes…..and I will support them and the police who support them with my every breath,” he continued.
Another Facebook user posted the same photo and caption Sept. 7, but removed the post after PolitiFact revealed the photo was actually taken in 2016.
Quinn has not yet responded to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
Fact check: Image depicts sunset over Hawaii, not California fires below clouds
A viral 2016 photo given false context
A Johnson City, Tennessee, firefighter first shared the photo on Facebook on Nov. 29, 2016, after his team responded to an unprecedented wildfire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The wildfire burned through the Great Smoky Mountains and surrounding towns, killing at least three people, displacing thousands and burning down hundreds of businesses and homes. More than 200 firefighters from surrounding areas responded to fight the blaze.
“As close as we got to seeing sleep in 36 hours,” the firefighter wrote and tagged several other firefighters in his Facebook post.
The photo was shared more than 32,000 times and the pictured first responders received national recognition.
“That is a photo of our firefighters from the 2016 Gatlinburg, TN wildfire. We do not have any of our firefighters responding to the West Coast wildfires,” Johnson City Fire Department District Chief David Bell wrote to USA TODAY in an email.
Fact check: Oregon, Washington fires were not set by anti-fascist activists
Our rating: False
A viral photo of resting firefighters is being misrepresented as a photo of the first responders fighting wildfires blazing along the West Coast. While the photo does show exhausted first responders, fire officials and media coverage confirm the pictured firefighters were responding to 2016 wildfires in Tennessee. We rate this claim FALSE.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, Sept. 14, “Wildfires burned millions of acres across the West. See what that looks like.”
- USA TODAY, Sept. 11, “Fact check: Oregon, Washington fires were not set by anti-fascist activists”
- Robert Quinn, Sept. 10 Facebook post
- Dale Smith, Archived Sep. 7 Facebook post
- PolitiFact, Sept. 13, “Viral photo of resting firefighters happened in Tennessee in 2016, not California in 2020”
- Adam Scott Momberger, Nov. 29, 2016, Facebook post
- Tennessean, Nov. 29, 2016, “In Gatlinburg, extent of fire damage comes into grim focus”
- CBS News, Dec. 1, 2016, “Photo of napping firefighters goes viral”
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