Fact check: Firefighting helicopters in California can use swimming pool water to put out fires

·3 min read

The claim: Video shows California firefighting helicopter, which can get water from pools for wildfires

As California's firefighters continue their battle against blazes ravaging the state, one viral Instagram post claims putting out fires may require an unexpected water supply: a swimming pool.

"Where there is a wildfire, helicopters go to all nearby pools to grab water in an emergency," reads the Sept. 14 Instagram post, which has received over 300,000 likes since it was shared to the platform.

An accompanying video seems to demonstrate this. A helicopter, not seen but heard, collects an enormous bucket of water from a bright blue swimming pool before flying off.

Fact check: Tsunami reaching East Coast due to Spanish volcano highly unlikely, experts say

The post claims the video was shot in California and asserts the amount of water taken is usually tracked and reimbursed through payment or refilling the source. A "Cal Fire firefighter" is listed as the source for this last bit of information.

"I didn't know this but it makes sense," commented one Instagram user.

Using swimming pools as a water supply during a fire may make practical sense, and the Instagram post isn't wrong. But the video was not taken in California.

USA TODAY reached out to the Instagram user for comment.

The video is from Australia, not California

The video's footage was taken during Australia's 2019-2020 bushfire season, considered the country's most extreme and unprecedented season of wildfires.

The helicopter in the video was collecting water for the Green Wattle Creek fire, Australian news outlet ABC Emergency reported in a Facebook post. The fire started in November 2019 southwest of Sydney and burned over 680,000 acres over the course of two months.

Fact check: Post falsely claims Pfizer lab in Spain went up in flames

Firefighters had to resort to collecting water from swimming pools as water levels in many parts of Sydney's state of New South Wales were running low, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Swimming pool water sometimes used in California

Though the video was misidentified, the post is right that helicopters can use water from pools to fight fires in California, according to Christine McMurrow, spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).

"During fires, (firefighting helicopters) are allowed to use any water source that is safe for them to do so, and there are cases where they do use pools," she told USA TODAY.

Sourcing from a swimming pool may not necessarily be a last resort, but a choice left to the discretion of the pilot depending on the incident and the situation. And water used by CAL FIRE is typically tracked by the gallon, said McMurrow, who could not comment on other fire agencies' practices.

As for whether water taken is reimbursed, McMurrow said that decision ultimately depends on what the homeowner wants. Generally, individuals who have experienced any sort of unrepaired property damage can seek reimbursement.

"(CAL FIRE) does have a claims process that people can go through if they have had property damage that was not repaired by us, and they can follow that process for potential reimbursement," she said.

Our rating: Partly false

Based on our research, we rate PARTLY FALSE the claim that a video shows a California firefighting helicopter, which can get water from pools for wildfires. In California, firefighting helicopters are allowed to use any water source deemed safe to use and homeowners can seek reimbursement if they wish. However, the post's video of a helicopter taking water from a pool is from Australia, not California.

Our fact-check sources:

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Firefighters can use swimming pool water to put out fires

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting