Fact Check: Video Of Quebec Wildfires Starting 'At The Same Time' Does NOT Prove Fires Were Coordinated

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: Video Of Quebec Wildfires Starting 'At The Same Time' Does NOT Prove Fires Were Coordinated Lightning

Does satellite imagery from early June 2023, showing wildfires in Quebec starting simultaneously, prove that the fires were coordinated? No, that's not true: Many factors can explain why wildfires started in the Canadian province at the same time, including lightning strikes, dry conditions in the region and human activity. A spokesman for Quebec's Society for the Protection of Forests Against Fire (SOPFEU) said most of the fires were caused by lightning.

The claim appeared in a video on TikTok (archived here) on June 5, 2023, titled "How do that many fires all start at the same time across an entire province?!!" The clip opens with:

All of southeast Quebec caught on fire, guys. All of it. Insane. Insane. Look at that. The whole thing. All at once.

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

Quebec fires.png

(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Thu Jun 8 15:56:40 2023 UTC)

Paul Sirvatka, a professor of meteorology at the College of DuPage, told Lead Stories in a June 8, 2023, email that the video doesn't provide a good explanation for the cause of the wildfires. He continued:

The satellite imagery is real and clearly shows a rapid initiation of several fires. (Not instantaneous.) ... It has been a very dry season as the jet stream has behaved anomalously for the last month or two. ...

Those satellite images are generated every ten minutes. Although not simultaneous they did occur within a very short time frame (on the order of hours.)

In a June 1, 2023, press release, Quebec's Society for the Protection of Forests Against Fire said, "Since May 28, the province has been facing a situation conducive to forest fires with high and dry temperatures as well as low precipitation throughout the territory."

NASA

A NASA satellite photo from June 3, 2023, shows wildfires burning across Quebec. A story describing the outbreak on the NASA website said:

An unusually intense start to Canada's wildfire season filled skies with smoke in May 2023. Then, at the beginning of June, scores of new fires raged in the eastern Canadian province of Quebec, some of which were ignited by lightning.

Here's the June 3, 2023, image from the space agency showing plumes of smoke from the fires:

quebecfires_amo_2023154.jpg

(Source: NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin)

Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere

Separate satellite imagery from Colorado State University's Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show the same wildfire flare-up from June 2, 2023, as is found in the video on TikTok. It appears below:

Kyle Hilburn at CIRA said in a June 8, 2023, email to Lead Stories that he sees nothing nefarious taking place in the video on TikTok. He continued:

I can confirm that our imagery shows a similar picture, around 14 UTC [Coordinated Universal Time] several fires blew up simultaneously. This is confirmed in terms of the smoke and the hot spots. However, rather than representing some sinister conspiracy, I think a more likely explanation is passage of a cold front ... . Certainly we've seen situations like this before, lightning from days before can start small areas that smolder for days and lack hot spots that can be seen by satellite, but then suddenly blow up into fires when stronger winds accompany a frontal passage. The timing of the cold front matches the fire blow up perfectly.

This June 2, 2023, map from NOAA's Weather Prediction Center shows the passing cold front mentioned (above) by Hilburn. The red box highlights the front (blue line with triangles) and the approximate location of the wildfires:

cold front map.png

(Source: NOAA screenshot taken on Thu Jun 8 2023)

Society for the Protection of Forests Against Fire

Stéphane Caron of SOPFEU told Lead Stories in a June 8, 2023, email that the cold front did play a role in the weather that sparked the fires. He said:

Most fires were caused by the passage of a lightning front. So it's not surprising that the fires occurred almost simultaneously. This is a very common natural phenomenon.

Another Lead Stories fact check of claims related to wildfires in Canada can be found 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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