Maps of wildfires ending at Canadian border only show US data
CLAIM: Maps of recent wildfires across the Pacific Northwest show the fires stop abruptly at the Canadian border.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. These maps only include American data. Canadian maps show there are fires burning in British Columbia. The western United States is experiencing a more severe fire season than western Canada this year for a variety of reasons, but scientists say climate change has contributed to more intense wildfires in both countries in recent years.
THE FACTS: Social media posts this week noted what seemed like a curious phenomenon: Wildfire maps show the blazes stretch across much of the western United States, but end at the Canadian border.
Facebook users joked that the fires must “lack Canadian passports” and called it a “geographical oddity.”
A Twitter user in Canada said he was “gratified to see” that climate change stops at the 49th parallel. “Must be that carbon tax,” he wrote.
The maps were also shared by Emerald Robinson, a White House correspondent for Newsmax.“If the fires in Oregon & Washington are ‘climate change’ then why do the fires stop at the Canadian border?” she wrote in a tweet shared nearly 4,000 times.
These posts are missing a key fact: The maps being shared on social media only include U.S. data.
There is cooperation across borders, but typically U.S. agencies don’t map fire data in Canada or Mexico, according to Ernesto Alvarado, a forestry professor at the University of Washington.
One map shared in several social media posts, for example, is a “USA Wildfires” map from the geographic information system software supplier Esri. It shows more than 100 wildfires in the western United States but doesn’t display Canada’s fires.
Canada has its own fire mapping system, which reveals several fires are currently burning in western Canada near the U.S. border.
Residents of Vancouver, British Columbia, also are experiencing unhealthy air quality levels as strong winds blow smoke and ash particles from U.S. fires to the north, The Associated Press has reported.
British Columbia’s wildfire season has been less severe than that of Washington, Oregon and California this year thanks to cooler and wetter conditions in that part of Canada this summer, according to Lori Daniels, a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia.
Weather patterns originating in California that have exacerbated the fires along the West Coast of the U.S. became weaker as they traveled north to Canada, Daniels and Alvarado told the AP.
However, British Columbia has still seen some wildfires, including in the city of Penticton, where a wildfire forced thousands of residents to evacuate in mid-August.
The province also endured record-breaking wildfires in 2017 and 2018, according to Daniels.
Climate change has worsened wildfire seasons on both sides of the border, as well as in other parts of the world, Daniels said. Warm, dry conditions and weather extremes make it easier for small fires started by lightning or human activity to grow and travel through forests replete with dead debris.
“This is everywhere,” Daniels said. “We’re all experiencing extreme temperatures, extreme droughts, extreme fires driven by those droughts, and they are the hallmarks of climate change.”
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.
Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536