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Firefighter goes viral dousing wildfire conspiracy theories on social media

Michael Clark has fought fires in Arizona and Utah and experienced blazes firsthand.
Clark, pictured here in the Arizona desert, has fought fires in multiple states.
Clark, pictured here in the Arizona desert, has fought fires in multiple states.Courtesy Michael Clark
/ Source: TODAY

A firefighter with actual experience battling blazes in national parks is taking down conspiracy theories about wildfires burning on the West Coast.

Michael Clark, known as @wildlandmike on TikTok, is a Hawaii-based firefighter who decided to debunk some of the misinformation being spread online about wildfires by posting videos on the social media platform.

One of his videos, which is a duet with another TikTok user — a woman perpetuating conspiracy theories — has gone viral, with people cheering on his swift and sober takedown.

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"I didn’t expect it to blow up as much as it did," Clark, 27, told TODAY.

"She had so many followers, I thought it was irresponsible," he said of the woman whose theories he systematically takes down in his duet. "I’m sure she was trying to do it for entertainment purposes. I hope no one’s going to bully her," he said.

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In her video, the young woman poses multiple questions, all of which Clark has a logical answer for.

"Now there are a lot of fires going on right now in our country," says the woman in her video. "Was it planned?

"No," responds Clark flatly.

"Is it not weird to you guys to know that the fires know when to stop at the border?" the woman asks.

"Because it's a U.S. database map you're looking at," Clark says. "Not going to be reporting Canada fires."

Courtesy Michael Clark

Clark, who is new to TikTok, said his first video was one debunking the idea that wildfires were being started by drones.

"I’ve seen all these crazy conspiracy theories when it comes to wildfires," he said. "I wanted to share what knowledge I have."

Clark, who is based in Hawaii, has fought fires in Utah, the Grand Canyon in Arizona and all over the West Coast as part of his job.

Clark at the Grand Canyon's North Rim.
Clark at the Grand Canyon's North Rim.Courtesy Michael Clark

"Being outside a fire, it can be scary," he said. "For me, I love it because it’s a rush and it’s solid hard work. At the end of the day, you feel really good with the work you’ve done, especially when certain decisions you’ve made with your team have helped prevent more acres of land from burning. It’s really rewarding work."

As for the theories about the wildfires circulating on the internet, Clark said that although there are arsonists out there, it's not the main way that wildfires are started.

"I simply was trying to bring light to the fact that there’s not this mass conspiracy of people starting fires," he said, noting that many wildfires are actually started by more mundane catalysts such as lightening strikes or forgotten campfires.

"Trucks going by on the highway, sparks from their vehicles can start one," he said. "There are so many different factors that are not as newsworthy as arson. People let their imaginations go."

Clark said that people who are interested in learning more about wildfires can check out InciWeb, a website that highlights incidents and is managed by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, a coalition of federal, state, local, tribal and territorial firefighting organizations.

"It's a really good resource, it’s public information and you can look at the map," he said regarding the map of the U.S. that identifies different wildfires. "It’s a very detailed report. When you go to this website, it's not going to show Canada," he said, referencing the woman's theory that pointed out that the wildfires seemed to stop at the U.S. border.

As for the huge response to his video, Clark says he has been surprised by the response and that people are now referring to him as "the hot firefighter" and likening his appearance to Ryan Reynolds (the actor is now following Clark on Twitter).

Clark says the matter-of-fact demeanor you see in the video is just who is he is.

"I’m to the point," he said. "I guess that’s how I respond to everything — I try to find the facts."