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VERIFY: Fact-checking photos and video of Pacific wildfires

Images and videos from Oregon and California that have shown the eerie effects of the wildfires have gone viral this week.

Images of red and orange skies popped up all over social media this week as residents on the West Coast shared what they were seeing outside as nearby areas were ravaged by wildfires.

Many of the pictures people posted looked almost apocalyptic.

But, as often happens with major breaking news, there were also older photos and videos being passed off as happening out west. 

So, which images and videos were actually showing what it actually looked like on the West Coast? The VERIFY team investigated what’s real and what isn’t.

Red skies in Oregon - REAL

Oregon wildfires making it look straight apocalyptic from pics

This viral image showing a deep red sky over a UPS truck in Oregon appears to have been first posted online by a person on Reddit, although it also went viral on other social media platforms such as Twitter.

The tweet said the photo was taken in Salem, but the person who posted it to Reddit said it was taken in Sublimity, Oregon, a suburb of Salem. 

That photo really shows what the skies looked like in the Salem area on September 8. An AP photo taken of a Salem neighborhood showed the same color sky. A video from KGW’s Christine Pitawanich taken in Stayton, a town neighboring Sublimity, was also bathed in the same hue. 

All of the above photos and videos were said to be shot without filters.

There are no copies of the UPS truck photo floating around from before this week. The original photographer was likely the person who posted it to Reddit.

View of California wildfires from above the clouds - MISATTRIBUTED

View of California wildfire above the clouds!

Posted by Edgar Cruz on Wednesday, September 9, 2020

A photo gaining thousands of shares on Facebook claimed to show the California wildfires from above the clouds; however, it’s not a recent photo.

The photo can be found on Imgur dating back to July 2018 depicting the clouds at sunset. A video taken above clouds at sunset in 2015 shows a similar coloration to the clouds.

RELATED: 3 dead as Northern California wildfire explodes, forces thousands from homes

RELATED: Eerie orange glow fills Bay Area sky as California wildfires rage on

Therefore, this photo has nothing to do with the current wildfires. It’s a photo that shows what it can sometimes look like above clouds at sunset.

Viral drone footage of San Francisco - REAL

This tweet featuring San Francisco drone footage edited with music from the "Blade Runner 2049" soundtrack has been viewed more than two million times.

Obviously the music is edited in, but the drone footage itself is real.

The original edit with music was posted to YouTube by Terry Tsai. That video was an edit of drone footage posted to YouTube by DoctorSbaitso, who actually mentioned "Blade Runner" in the video’s title.

The drone footage in that video is similar to photos and videos taken of San Francisco and the surrounding area by public officials, journalists, and many social media users on September 9.

Photo of fire burning on other side of Bidwell Bar Bridge - REAL

This photo was shared by many people across social media with a number of different captions, including by media outlets such as ABC.

It was taken by Josh Edelson and is in the Getty Images archive. It’s a real photo of the fires in California.

However, it’s important to note that the photo is of the Bidwell Bar Bridge, not the much more famous Golden State Bridge.

The bridges look similar at a glance, and the image even appears as one of the first results in a Google Image search of “Golden Gate Bridge fire.”

Credit: VERIFY

The Bidwell Bar Bridge is far from the San Francisco Bay and north of Sacramento. It’s actually green, not red like the Golden Gate Bridge.

While the Golden Gate Bridge hasn’t been at direct risk of being engulfed in flames this week, it has been the site of countless viral videos showcasing limited visibility and orange skies.

Why do the skies look like this?

NASA explained why skies near wildfires look red or orange in the afternoon back in 2015.

“The smoke particles from the fires allow sunlight's longer wavelength colors like red and orange to get through while blocking the shorter wavelengths of yellow, blue and green," NASA said. "Those longer wavelengths give the sky a red or orange tinted appearance. Similarly, during sunrise and sunset times when the sun is near the horizon, sunlight has to travel through more of Earth's atmosphere to get to you. The additional atmosphere filters out the shorter wavelengths and allows the longer wavelengths to get through, providing reds and oranges during those times.”

Essentially, the smoke does the same thing to wavelengths of light as the sunset does. So the sky is stuck in a perpetual state of sunset.

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