No, these photos are not from the California wildfires

By Chris Bell
BBC News

  • Published
Firefighters sleeping in CaliforniaImage source, Edgar Sanchez/Kern County Fire
Image caption,
Firefighters sleep outside after a long shift tackling a California wildfire - in 2017

As the deadliest wildfires in California's history have spread, so too have misinformation and pictures wrongly attributed to the current blaze.

At least 63 people have died and more than 600 are missing, officials say, while hundreds of thousands of others have been forced to flee their homes.

Online, social media users have coordinated missing person appeals, organised assistance for the displaced and shared information.

But in the scrabble for details, photographs of previous fires in California and elsewhere have been unwittingly muddled in with legitimate images of the ongoing fires.

Here are some of the most widely-shared - and the real stories behind them.

Thomas Fire, California - 2017

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It's easy to see why this image struck such a chord.

California firefighters of the Tehachapi Wildland Fire Crew 11 grab some well-earned sleep after an exhausting 24-hour shift. The photograph encapsulates the commitment and dedication of the emergency services.

A single tweet of the image has attracted thousands of shares and tens of thousands of likes, in the context of the ongoing fires in California.

Undoubtedly evocative, the image dates, however, from 2017 - and the California Thomas fire which was then the largest in the state's history. An area greater than New York City, Brussels and Paris combined was burned.

Michele Newell posted the image to Facebook on 19 December last year. Her son, Dylan, was among the resting firefighters.

"A little over two weeks ago Dylan texted me that Venture had a 100-acre fire," she wrote at the time.

"That fire erupted into something that took the homes of many friends and displaced hundreds of families.

"It's been heart-wrenching."

Malibu, California - 2007

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Flames dwarf a trailer in the foreground as a fire in Malibu rages.

Actor James Woods was among the social media users to share the image - but it actually dates from October 2007.

According to the LA Times, close to 4,000 acres of land were burned and dozens of structures and vehicles destroyed when electricity pylons toppled over in high winds.

Mr Woods has played a prominent role in coordinating help and assistance for fire victims online, through his use of the hashtags #SoCalFiresJamesWoods and #CampFireJamesWoods.

The actor, who has developed a large online following in part through his vocal support of conservative causes, enlisted his 1.85 million Twitter followers in efforts to amplify missing person appeals, solicit donations and attract volunteers.

Sula, Montana - 2000

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But nonetheless, some social media users mistakenly attributed the fire to California in 2018. Thousands shared and liked posts featuring the image online.

The photograph was taken in Sula, Montana, in 2000 by John McColgan, who worked with the Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Fire Service.

Sparked by lightning strikes, the fire was one of 86 which raged across America's western states in August that year, according to Time.