Firefighter Confuses Internet With Video of Her Starting Fires on Purpose

A California wildland firefighter shared the common practice of starting prescribed fires in a video online, but seeing her setting fire to land on purpose confused a whole load of people on the internet.

Meg Hayes shared the footage of her using a special tool to deliberately create fires in a California woodland on TikTok on June 23. Since then, the post has gained over 1.4 million views.

In the clip, Hayes can be seen driving along in a vehicle, using what looks like a paintball gun to shoot at the trees. The tool is actually called a PyroShot, which is used to create the controlled fires that are sometimes necessary to improve land for a variety of reasons.

PyroShots are gun-like machines that shoot balls containing high-grade potassium permanganate. Before they are shot out however, they are injected with glycol, as captured in the video, which causes a chemical reaction. The reaction takes around 20-40 seconds to take place, during which time the ball is shot out. Once it has landed in its target area, the ball then ignites into a flame, burning for about two minutes.

The video caused confusion among viewers, who were baffled as to why a firefighter was setting fires. "What is this for? I've never seen this before," commented one TikTok user, while a Reddit user also jokingly noted that 100 firefighters are convicted of arson each year, citing a National Volunteer Fire Council report.

Firefighters actually use fire to protect some wild areas, with certain ecosystems requiring fires to be healthy. Fires sometimes known as controlled or prescribed burns are used for a variety of reasons, including removing unwanted species that threaten the native ones, promoting the growth of trees and plants, putting nutrients back into the soil and minimizing the spread of pests and disease.

One hugely beneficial reason for controlled fires is to prevent the spread of current or future wildfires. Wildland firefighters intentionally start, and control, smaller fires in the path of wildfires to burn vegetation and remove any fuel for the fire to spread.

Aside from using PyroShots, firefighters also drop the balls from helicopters above the ground, or in some cases use a fire torch on the ground instead.

Controlled burns are tightly planned with "burn plans" that note the necessary conditions, including the temperature, humidity, the wind and other factors. They only go ahead if the conditions on the day match those that have been specified.

In recent news, California firefighters were reported to be quitting over their $13.45 hourly wage during the height of the wildfire season in the state. The elite teams of firefighters, known as "hotshots," are growing sparse, as wildfires burn on in Inland Empire, Central Valley and the California-Oregon border.

Newsweek contacted Meg Hayes for comment on the video.

A forest fire
A forest fire. Controlled burns can help to prevent these from happening or spreading. Getty Images