Firefighter Debunks Wildfire Conspiracies On TikTok

Rose

Hawaii firefighter Michael Clark is winning fans’ hearts thanks to his viral TikTok debunk videos about the West Coast wildfires.

Posted on September 20, 2020, at 5:28 p.m. ET


Courtesy of Michael Clark

Michael Clark is a 27-year-old firefighter working in Oahu, Hawaii.

He’s now in his third year of fighting fires, having previously worked at the Grand Canyon and in Utah.

“I’m pretty sure I’m going to stick with it for the rest of my life,” he told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview on Sunday.

One thing Clark doesn’t like, though, is watching the coverage of the devastating West Coast wildfires and seeing unfounded conspiracy theories go viral online.

In recent weeks, people have suggested without real evidence that the fires have been set by far-left antifa activists and people using powerful lasers. The online misinformation has had real world consequences: In Oregon, journalists have been harassed by locals who fear them to be shadowy agitators, while the FBI has even had to tell people to tone down the conspiracy chatter.

On Friday, influential podcast host Joe Rogan even apologized for telling listeners the media was not reporting that “left-wing people” were being arrested for lighting the fires. He later admitted he been “very irresponsible” in spreading misinformation that he hadn’t tried to verify.


Kyle Grillot / Getty Images

The Bobcat Fire continues to burn through the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County, north of Azusa, California, on Sept. 17, 2020.

“There’s definitely arsonists out there,” Clark explained, “but the conspiracies that are spreading seem to be saying they were all started on purpose and that’s just simply not true.”

“It’s a lot more entertaining to watch some crazy conspiracy theory than it is to watch some boring facts,” he said.

Last week, Clark was in his truck when he decided to record a TikTok to debunk a video someone had posted suggesting social media companies were hiding footage that would show the blazes were being intentionally lit.

“Just a little PSA,” he said in his filmed response to the footage of flames being shot from a drone. “It’s a prescribed burn. We use drip torches and drones. Nothing crazy. Stay safe out there.”

When that video was seen thousands of times, he decided to make another.

On his For You page on TikTok, he came across a video from popular TikToker @cierra_mistt in which she suggested the West Coast wildfires were a massive US government conspiracy.

Clark believes the TikToker was trying to be entertaining and didn’t really believe what she was saying, but he felt she was still misleading her two million followers.

“Is it not weird to you guys to know that the fires know when to stop at the border?” said @cierra_mistt.

“Because it’s a US database map you’re looking at,” Clark explained in his response, looking fed up. “Not going to be reporting Canada fires.”

He also outlined other possible causes for the blazes — aside from that gender reveal stunt — that might be less nefarious than arsonists. “Campfires, lightning strikes — not very newsworthy,” he deadpanned.

But he seemed to truly lose it when the woman suggested a radioactivity sign (that appeared to actually be located the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site in Ukraine) was close to the forests he had worked near at the Grand Canyon.

“That’s literally not there,” Clark said, exasperated. “I’ve worked there. It even looks edited!”

“Come on, guys.”

Clark’s TikTok has since been viewed more than one million times on the app.

It also garnered another 6.7 million views when it was reposted on Twitter.

Firefighters: literally fight fire

Also firefighters: fighting conspiracy theories on TikTok

The woman who Clark debunked in his viral TikTok, @cierra_mistt, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment for this story, but on Saturday she did post an image of Clark to her Instagram story accompanied by lyrics to the song “Famous” by Kanye West which read, “I made that bitch famous.”

On TikTok, users thanked Clark for his video — and seemed as fed up as he is with all the conspiracies.

On Twitter, too, people were grateful for Clark’s work in fighting both fires and conspiracies.

@cres_guez One of the many things I love about this is how very firefightery his responses are. Just very calm with zero tolerance for nonsense.

Clark is grateful and a tad embarrassed by all the attention his videos have received (Yes, he’s seen the comments from people comparing him to Ryan Reynolds), but he said he’s glad to do his bit to help out.

“I hope people see this video and take away that you gotta do your own research,” he told BuzzFeed News. “2020 is already a crazy enough place. I just don’t think now is the time to be spreading misinformation.”

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