Fact Check: NO Proof 30 Tons Of 'Stolen Ammonia Nitrate' Was Used To Start Canadian Wildfires

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: NO Proof 30 Tons Of 'Stolen Ammonia Nitrate' Was Used To Start Canadian Wildfires Weather-Caused

Were "30 tons of stolen ammonia nitrate ... taken to Canada to start" the wildfires that began burning in Quebec in May 2023 and blanketed the northeastern United States in early June 2023? No, that's not true: There is no credible information or evidence to support the assertion that, first, 30 tons of ammonium nitrate were stolen; and second, if it was stolen, that it was taken to Canada to start the wildfires there.

The claim appeared in a post on Twitter (archived here) published on June 8, 2023. The post says:

Current working hypothesis: that 30 tons of stolen ammonia nitrate was taken to Canada to start these fires

Current working hypothesis: that 30 tons of stolen ammonia nitrate was taken to Canada to start these fires

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:

VA Project C wildfires.png

(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Tue Jun 20 20:02:33 2023 UTC)

The background

Some 30 tons (60,000 pounds) of ammonium nitrate, which can be used as fertilizer or as an ingredient in explosives, went missing during a two-week trip from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Saltdale, California, that began in mid-April 2023, Cheyenne television station KGWN reported.

Manufacturer Dyno Nobel, which loaded the chemical in pellet form into the railcar that was transported by Union Pacific Railroad, told USAToday that the ammonium nitrate likely fell from the railcar en route. The article from May 23, 2023, attributed this statement to Dyno Nobel:

'The railcar was sealed when it left the Cheyenne facility, and the seals were still intact when it arrived in Saltdale,' a spokesperson for the company that manufactures explosives told USA TODAY. 'The railcar was also observed after departure in the railroad's Cheyenne yard with the seals intact and no sign of any leaks.'

'The initial assessment is that a leak through the bottom gate on the railcar may have developed in transit,' according to the company, releasing pellets onto the tracks over the two-week trip.

There was no evidence at the time of writing that the chemical was stolen. However, the case is being investigated, according to USAToday.

The tweet and similar versions of the claim refer to "ammonia nitrate," which is a gaseous compound, while the 30-ton commodity being shipped was ammonium nitrate, a solid compound.

Union Pacific

Asked about the claim in the social media post that "ammonia nitrate" was taken to Canada to start the fires, Robynn Tysver, a media relations manager for Union Pacific, provided this response in a June 20, 2023, email to Lead Stories. She said:

Union Pacific is unaware of any evidence suggesting ammonium nitrate is connected to the Canadian wildfires.

Society for the Protection of Forests Against Fire

The Society for the Protection of Forests Against Fire (SOPFEU) in Canada agrees with the railroad. Stéphane Caron of the SOPFEU told Lead Stories in a June 20, 2023, email that the majority of the wildfires are weather-related. He said there appears to be no connection between the missing chemical pellets and the fires:

Most of the forest fires that have caused the current situation in Quebec were caused by the passage of a lightning front. There's no doubt about it.

There is no evidence that these fires were caused by ammonium nitrate. There is therefore no investigation into this matter.

Other Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to wildfires in Canada can be found here and here.

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  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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