Burning Three Sisters photo is not from 2019 NSW bushfires

AAP FactCheck December 20, 2019

The Statement

With devastating bushfires burning across NSW, a widely-shared Facebook post shows the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, engulfed in smoke as a fire burns through the national park.

 The uncredited photo features the region’s most recognisable landmark, The Three Sisters at Echo Point, Katoomba, in the foreground. 

The post by an Australian user was published on December 6, 2019 during NSW’s bushfire crisis, which to date has burned millions of hectares, destroyed hundreds of homes and led to several fatalities

The full text of the post reads: ÔÇ£Three Sisters Lookout Katoomba 48 hours ago – it’s heartbreaking – the agony and pain of individual animals and ancient forest.ÔÇØ

The post has attracted more than 2,300 shares, 500 reactions and 150 comments.

A Facebook post which reads ,ÔÇ£Three Sisters Lookout Katoomba 48 hours agoÔÇØ implies the photograph was taken on or about December 4, 2019. 

The Analysis

With its statement of ÔÇ£Three Sisters Lookout Katoomba 48 hours agoÔÇØ the December 6 post implies the photograph was taken on or about December 4, 2019. 

AAP FactCheck conducted a reverse image search to find the photo was taken by Australian photographer Andrew Merry for visual media company Getty Images

Mr Merry has worked as an artist and professional photographer for more than 20 years and specialises in heritage photography. 

The caption on Getty’s online site reads: ÔÇ£Three Sisters and large smoke cloud, bushfire, forest fire, Blue Mountains National Park, Australia – stock photo. 

ÔÇ£Photograph taken from Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba. Looking down towards the blue, smoke-filled Jamison Valley. Mount Solitary (Korowal) on the horizon is partly obscured by the large smoke cloud which is illuminated yellow by the late afternoon sun.ÔÇØ 

A mobile app for Getty Images shows the date of Andrew Merry’s Three Sisters photo as ÔÇ£8 May 2018ÔÇØ. 

However, there is no date listed on the photo in the Getty photo library. 

When contacted by phone to clarify date of the image, Mr Merry told AAP FactCheck it was not from 2019.

ÔÇ£If they’re saying that photo is from this year – it’s not,ÔÇØ Mr Merry said of the post when spoken to on December 20, 2019.

Mr Merry directed AAP FactCheck to Getty’s mobile phone app to confirm the date. In this format, the photo is displayed with the date on which it was taken as ÔÇ£8 May 2018ÔÇØ.

One of Mr Merry’s other photos, captured on the same day and showing tourists looking at the fire, puts the blaze into context as part of a ÔÇ£3500-hectare hazard reduction burn at Mt Solitary (Korowal)ÔÇØ carried out by the NSW Rural Fire Service and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. 

The Rural Fire Service (RFS) website confirms May 8, 2018 as the date of the hazard reduction burn. The burn was widely reported by media outlets as the first conducted in the area since 1955

An article on the website Climate 2020, a United Nations Association-UK publication, also features the Getty photo by Mr Merry. The piece was published on November 9, 2018, more than a year before the time claimed in the Facebook post’s caption.

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck has found the Facebook post to be false. The image of the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains was taken in May 2018 during a planned hazard reduction burn in the area and is not from December 2019 as the post claims. 

False – The primary claim of the content is factually inaccurate. 

First published December 20, 2019, 18:08 AEDT

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