Fact check: Photo claiming to show August-September 2020 California wildfire from above clouds is sunset over Hawaii in 2018

Cristopher Centers

Hundreds of thousands of social media users are sharing a photo, which they claim shows the California wildfire from above the clouds. However, the person who took the original photo confirmed to Reuters that it was taken in July 2018 and shows a sunset over Hawaii. Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS […]

Hundreds of thousands of social media users are sharing a photo, which they claim shows the California wildfire from above the clouds. However, the person who took the original photo confirmed to Reuters that it was taken in July 2018 and shows a sunset over Hawaii.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The posts ( here , here , here ) show a photo looking down from the sky onto clouds, which have a red glow coming through them. The posts are accompanied by the caption, “View of California wildfire above the clouds!” or variations identifying the photo as the California wildfire.

Wildfires started in California in mid-August and since then dozens of fires have burnt 4.5 million acres in Oregon, California and Washington state, destroying thousands of homes and killing dozens of people (here) .

The original photo in the Facebook posts was first shared on July 22, 2018, by Nathan Province on Instagram where he says in the caption, “This post is a sunset” (here ). Province confirmed to Reuters that he captured the original photo and that it does not show the glow from wildfires: “This happens every time there is a wildfire. I took this photo of a sunset over Hawaiian waters in late July 2018. So the photos and video on my page are all mine. I’ve had copyrights on them since August or September 2018 as well.”

Atmospheric scientist, Michael Lowry, explained in a tweet (here) why the sunset had this effect on the clouds: “The glow is from a sun angle below the horizontal plane illuminating shallow altocumulus clouds.” He was replying to a tweet in 2018 that also miscaptioned the same photo, which is no longer visible on Twitter but the archived version can be seen via this link tinyurl.com/y2lq2z7s.

Reuters has recently debunked other false claims relating to the wildfires in the United States ( here , here ).

VERDICT

False. The photo was taken in late July 2018 and shows the sun illuminating shallow altocumulus clouds during a sunset over Hawaii, not the wildfires currently burning in California.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here .

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