Monday 8 January 2024

Cook's Beach Fire - Misrepresentation and Propaganda

Just before Christmas, 2023, a swanky bach in Cook's Beach went up in smoke.  It was immediately claimed that some sort of electric vehicle was responsible, with the claim being advanced via social media and repeated in traditional media - albeit in the latter case with caveats that it was hearsay from 'neighbours' and 'eyewitnesses' and had not been established.

Soon after, the local fire service made a public announcement, stating the fire was not started by an EV / PHEV and originated elsewhere in the house, adding the vehicle was not in the garage at the time the fire started and that it was not charging.

In a sane world that might have been the end of it - an official announcement had been made.  We don't live in a sane world, however, so instead it was decreed this was simply a part of the cover up, a deliberate lie put out by FENZ to advance the EV agenda.

Because, yes, there are - supposedly - shadowy organization and powers whose purpose is to make people drive electric cars for ... reasons that remain unclear.

A few days after the fire some footage surfaced, filmed by a witness.  It was immediately seized upon by the anti-EV voices because it seemed on the surface to contradict the official narrative.

Here's a You Tube wannbe influencer's called Simon's take on it, titled New Zealand (Cooks Beach) Fire: Media claims "EV not to blame":

His main points are that multiple eyewitness described it as being caused by an EV.  The media initially reported this but later - mysteriously - changed their story to report the EV was not to blame.  FENZ said the fire started elsewhere in the house, yet the garage is ablaze and the rest of the house is intact.  And(of course) there is some nefarious attempt to "pull the wool" over our eyes by someone.

(SPOILER: in this case, it is the media.)

So, here is what he has to say.  Describing the blaze itself, he says, "The initial media reports indicated that some kind of EV was responsible for the fire" - this is NOT TRUE as we will see.  The media reports he cites don't apportion blame - they simply repeat information they have been given.  They simply quote unidentified sources saying this is what they (the sources) thought happened; Simon neglects to acknowledge the caveats these media sources often included.  He's presenting a false account of the media reports.

He hits us with the extracts from the media reports that he thinks back up the claim that "initial media reports indicated that some kind of EV was responsible for the fire"

First, he gives us a quote from Newshub:

FENZ hasn't confirmed the cause of the fire - but neighbours told Newshub the fire started while an electric car was charging in the garage.

A witness told 1News that the initial fire started in the garage where a hybrid car was parked.

Note there are discrepancies - in one case, it is an 'electric car' and in the second it is 'hybrid'; in the first story it is described as charging, and in the latter it is parked.  The second report says the fire started in the garage, but the first one only says it started 'while an electric car was parking in the garage,' without explicitly saying where it started.

Eyewitness accounts (and note Newshub does not use the term 'eyewitness') are notoriously unreliable, and here we have complete chos after just two sentences.

Of course, our genial host has already prompted us to think it was the EV charging that ignites the garage, and the media reported this so we overlook these discrepancies.

His third source is the NZ Herald, which simply repeats (with due acknowledgement) what 1 News reported; he also provides some TV news footage, neither of which add anything to the mix, though the TV footage voice over describes the "inferno the locals say was caused by an electric car catching fire while charging in the garage."

So, finally we have a claim that the EV caused the fire - but here the "neighbours" and the "witness" have been downgraded to "locals" - by this stage, we could be getting the thoughts of anyone who was in Cook's Beach at the time and who was willing to talk to a journalist, regardless of whether they saw anything at all.  And if I know one thing about people who don't like EVs, it is that they are happy to talk about them and how wicked they are, usually from a stance detached from any sort of direct experience or knowledge.

This is all worth mentioning as it gives the lie to the suggestion the media are not covering negative stories about electric vehicles, a common claim and one which Simon circles back to at the end of his diatribe.  Here we have three different mainstream outlets all reporting information that it would have been easy for them - perhaps even journalistically responsible - for them not to report at this stage.

Our host then continues: "All these media outlets are basically saying the same thing - eyewitnesses who were on the scene when the fire started said it was caused by an EV with the fire spreading to the garage."

This statement is untrue.  And I am not talking about the quibbles about whether they were describing it as a hybrid or an EV.  He has upgraded the "neighbours" and "locals" to "eyewitnesses" who were "on the scene when the fire started"; but only 1 News 1 News used the term 'witness' (and the NZ Herald echoed it in its doppelganger reporting.  

So it is untrue to claim - as he does - that "all these media outlets are basically saying the same thing" - only one of them (and its echo) is claiming to be speaking to anyone who could be said to have seen anything.

The other "neighbours" and "locals" don't say how the fire started; only the unidentified TV news coverage directly says their source claims the fire "was caused by an EV".  1 News referred to a "witness" who told them the fire started "in the garage" rather than stating the car started it; News Hub don't even suggest a location for it.  

And remember, that TV news coverage only identified its source as "locals" - not dignifying them with the title of "witness" and who may not have seen anything at all.  Yet here they are presented as "eyewitnesses who were on the scene when the fire started."  Wild, wild surmising and invention from Simon.

That isn't what our host wants to talk about, really.  After all, if that was how the story was covered, he would probably be quite happy.  But, as he describes it, "But then, two days later, on the 18th of December, the New Zealand Herald put out another article ..." referring to this passage:

Social media posts and a media outlet then reported a witness as saying the fire had been started by an EV (electric vehicle) in the home’s garage. 
But Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) investigator Ed Hopping said that was not the case. 
“The investigation is still ongoing... but I’m comfortable to put it out there in the world that the fire wasn’t a result of the battery in the car failing,” Hopping said. 
He said the fire started within the home, while the car was parked outside the garage and was not plugged in for charging at the time. 
“It’s just important to put out there that hybrid cars... aren’t that vulnerable to fires,” Hopping said. 
“And then in this instance, the car wasn’t plugged in and wasn’t inside the garage or the structure.” 
Based on Fenz experience so far, he said it isn’t common for fires to be started by electric vehicles in New Zealand.

Simon offers his take on this: "So I'm glad we're getting all the key points of 'the message' out in this article ... I emailed the Fire and Emergency New Zealand media with the following questions: multiple eyewitness reports claim that the fire started in an hybrid vehicle that was parked outside the garage  ..."

Again, "multiple eye witnesses" were not mentioned.  A single "witness" was referred to and how much the rest may have known or seen is unclear.  He is simply wrong here.  WRONG.

(AN ASIDE: whatever these people may or may not have seen, they all said the car was INSIDE the garage. "In the garage" is repeated in all the reports - even though they can't decide if it was a hybrid, an EV, or whether it was charging or just parked.  Yet hear is Simon blithely proclaims it was outside, immediately nixing the credibility of those "eye witnesses" (or whatever) he is relying on.  You can't have it both ways, trusting them when they say the fire was started by a charging car (though only one of them, the "local" says that) and then happily ignoring them when they say the car was in the garage.)

Now we get to the nub of Simon's complaining - that Hopping said battery failure was not involved and the fire started else where in the house.  He wants to know how this could have been confirmed "so quickly" (his words).

The obvious implication being this is a BIG LIE and a COVER UP.  The possibility FENZ might have spoken to the people who owned the house and car and got information from them seems to have eluded our host.  Though I am willing to be all the money in the world if Hopping had said "The investigation isn't complete but it was totally caused by the EV combusting" our host would not be complaining about the speed of that conclusion being made public.

The response he received referred Simon to an article in the Waikato Times with three quotes selected (by whom is not clear):

“I can’t comment on the cause, because the investigation is not yet completed, but I can say where it did not start and that was in the garage,” Hopping said.

“The car did not have anything to do with it, and it was parked outside of the garage at the time.”

“It looks like the fire started at the rear of the property. It did not start where the car was.”

Significantly, he tells us to "take mental note of that very carefully because its going to be relevant in a minute."

He then engages in some boilerplate conspiracy waffle: "It's all very tidy isn't it?  Nothing to see here folks, please disperse."  If you say so, Simon.  Though if I was running a cover up, I'd probably have made sure I had an alternate explanation out in the media, rather than just saying what it wasn't.  Just get someone to say they left the iron on in the laundry adjacent to the garage, problem solved.

And, finally, we get the reward for all our patience.  Simon has a video to show us, "sent to me by one of my viewers" which supposedly exposes the coverup.  It is only a few seconds long and shows the garage of the house, the door open and flames pouring out of, with a Mitsubishi Outlander in the process of cooking up nicely.

Simon claims it is "very early on in the fire" and "you can see the only part of the house where smoke is coming from is the section where the car and the garage are.  The rest of the house is not involved at all at this point ... as we get closer we can see that the garage itself is on fire.  The car which is, I understand, a Mitsubishi Plug In Hybrid, is also on fire and the edges of the garage are on fire and the car.  But there's no sign of the rest of the house being involved at this stage.  And I don't see any evidence of the fire having started at the rear of the property which is completely out of sight compared to this view ... the main part of the house is not involved yet ... its not even involved.  Its only that car and the garage that are on fire right now.  So for them to say that it started at the rear just doesn't make sense with the evidence ..."

He also shows us some drone footage of the property blazing away, shortly after the clip.

He is overlooking a couple of pertinent things here, however.

First, of course, the first clip shows the front of the house.  We can see the garage is in flames.  But we can't see the back of the house.  Tellingly, perhaps, the drone footage does show the rear of the house, and there are gouts of flame erupting from the read of the property:

As you can see, the rear of the house is pretty clearly 'involved' as Simon likes to say.

But ... but ... but ... that drone footage is clearly taken from later  on, as there are now firefighters fight fire, down on the left (Simon has helpfully drawn a circle round them).  Obviously, by this time the fire has spread through out the house, starting in the garage and only later 'involving' the rear of the house.

Possibly.  But fires are tricky things - I know because I watched Backdraft obsessively in the 90s and still think it is a top, top film.  It isn't uncommon for fires in oxygen poor environments to die down to virtually nothing (this, of course, is how you put them out, if you can only starve the fire of sufficient oxygen) but flare up again when they find sweet, sweet air to breathe.  So if the fire had started at the rear of the house, if there wasn't plentiful oxygen, it could well have died down to the point where it wasn't obvious to someone in the street.  There aren't ready pathways for smoke to pour out (otherwise, oxygen would be pouring in and the fire would be having a fine old time); the exception to this is the garage, where the door has been fatefully left open, giving the fire oxygen to breath.

(n.b. I am not saying this is what happens; and I repeat my credentials are virtually nil - but I reckon they are as robust as Simon's.  And unlike him, when I am engaging in fantastic speculation I am making it pretty obvious this is what I am doing.  And I amn't wasting the emergency services time with mendacious communications.)

Simon rounds it all off with a typically mealy-mouthed quasi-caveat, saying he would, of course, be delighted to learn it wasn't actually an EV that caused the fire but he just can't, for the life of him, see how this can fit with the facts he's presented.  Someone, he implies, is telling us lies, and "What I really, really hate is having the wool pulled over my eyes by media outlets determined to push a particular message rather than be truthful with the facts."

Wait, what ... media outlets?  Dude, they were simply reporting what they were being told.  First, by the "neighbours" and "witnesses" and "locals" in Cook's Beach; and then by Fire Emergency New Zealand.

In spite of having emailed FENZ and quoted from their response and regurgitated the information stated in public by a spokesperson for FENZ, Simon is trying to blame the media for what he claims is a misrepresentation?  This is outlandishly silly.  How can the media dictate what Hopping and FENZ say?

Just go back to the title of Simon's clip for a moment: New Zealand (Cooks Beach) Fire: Media claims "EV not to blame".  No, Simon, the media didn't.  FENZ said the fire started else where and the car did not cause it.  The media simply REPORTED what FENZ said.  But claiming FENZ is spread false information is a riskier proposition than making vague, absurd claims about unidentified "media".

I know blaming 'mainstream media' is bread and butter for conspiracy trolls like Simon; but it helps if you can actually point to something bad the media have actually done.  Here they have literally just done their job, telling readers and viewers what happened and what people are saying about it, in a fairly even handed way - and I know this because there is plenty of complaining on EV social media sites about how the media mentioned the claims about an EV / hybrid being involved.

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