Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
France 24
France 24

Watch out for these images fuelling a conspiracy theory about the Hawaii wildfires

On Facebook and Twitter, several images are being used to claim that the fires on the Hawaiian island of Maui were started by high-tech weapons. But these are images taken out of context, with no connection to these events. © Observers

In the wake of the fires that tore across the Hawaiian island of Maui on August 8, a number of images have been circulating on social media. The unrelated videos have been fuelling a conspiracy theory, born in the 2000s, that says wildfires are caused by laser weapons known as "directed energy weapons".

If you only have a minute

  • On August 8, devastating fires broke out on the Hawaiian island of Maui, ravaging the major city of Lahaina. 
  • Since then, several videos purporting to show the island before, during and after the fires have been posted on Facebook and elsewhere. They are all unrelated to this tragedy. 
  • What all these images have in common is that they fuel a conspiracy theory that the Maui fires were caused by "directed energy weapons".

The fact-check, in detail

A video with more than 100,000 combined views on X (formerly Twitter) shows a huge blast of light that seems to travel some distance, resulting in smoke and fire.

It was first posted on August 13, with the caption, "Maui was attacked by directed energy weapons (dews)". The video was reposted the next day by an account that claimed, "What happened in Maui was more than just wildfires … It appears directed energy weapons may have been used and possibly why there was such a sudden and tragic loss of life!!"

A video showing a blast of light was shared on Twitter on August 13, 2023. © Twitter

According to these users, the tragic fires that ravaged Maui were in fact set intentionally, by a laserbeam weapon. Directed energy weapons are a very real type of weapon, using a laser beam or microwaves. They can perforate, damage or disrupt an object's electronic systems from a distance. But these systems are mainly designed for defence against drones and high-speed missiles. There is no evidence that such weapons have ever been used to cause fires.

The cause of the Maui fires, which have claimed more than 100 lives since August 8, remains unknown for the time being.

The viral video is blurry, making it hard to see exactly what is happening, or where it might have occurred.

In fact, a higher-definition version of this video exists. It was posted on YouTube in December 2018 by local television channel WWL-TV, which serves New Orleans, Louisiana. The caption on the video says it was a cellphone video taken by a viewer "down Williams Boulevard" in Kenner, Louisiana.

The blast of light is in fact an electrical explosion that traveled through power lines and caused sparks to fly. "Thousands" of Kenner residents lost power as a result, according to WWL-TV.

The explosions were caused by severe weather and high winds, according to this post from December 2018.

A blast of light appearing ... in Chile

Another video shared on Facebook on August 14 shows a large beam that seems to hit a building in an urban area, clear characteristics of a supposed "directed energy weapon".

A number of accounts shared the video, including this French-speaking user, who wrote, "What's happening in Maui, Hawaii?" 

On August 14, this account, which usually focuses on African news, published a montage of images of the Maui disaster. In the middle is this excerpt showing a beam hitting a building. © Facebook

But this video has nothing to do with the fires in Maui, as confirmed by AP in this article. The video actually comes from a TikTok post dated May 26, 2023. The person who posted it said that it was taken in the Macul district of Santiago, Chile. When it was reposted to support the "directed energy weapons" conspiracy, the video was enlarged and flipped, making it harder to see what was really going on.

A capture of the original TikTok, published on May 26. © TikTok

But what could have caused the beam seen in the original video? According to a report on Chilean television, the explosion was caused by a branch hitting an electrical transformer.

The beam itself is simply a refraction from the camera lens. In fact, if you play the video frame-by-frame, it's possible to see that the explosion occurs before the beam appears, rather than the other way around.

In the video posted on TikTok, we first see the explosion (left, 0:00), then the beam appear (0:01). © TikTok

An industrial incident at a refinery

On X (formerly Twitter), another account claims to have proof that directed energy weapons were the cause of the Maui fires. "They're using Direct Energy Weapon (sic) to try and advance their climate agenda", this post, in French, explains.

The post contains a low-quality image that appears to show a beam causing an explosion. Another post with the same photo and a caption in English claims: "I can confirm this, this was #DEW (Direct Energy Weapon) They have been using these is (sic) Canada Australia and other places."

This Twitter account, which regularly publishes conspiracy content about the fires in Hawaii, believes that this image, posted on August 11, is proof of the use of directed energy weapons. © Twitter

Once again, the image has been debunked. Snopes, an American verification media, was able to find the original context of this scene. It is in fact an incident that took place in January 2018 at a refinery in the city of Canton, in the US state of Ohio. It was reported in the local press. An Internet user also shared this photo of the event in the comments of a Facebook post by The Canton Repository.

A screenshot of the first occurrence of this image, posted on Facebook in 2018. © Facebook

Again, no connection with the Maui fires. Similar claims like these, attributing wildfires to a government conspiracy or high-tech weapons have proliferated in recent months. Last June, we debunked a claim that called into question the cause of fires in Canada.

Read moreNo, these satellite images aren’t proof that the Canadian wildfires are a conspiracy

The idea that forest fires are caused by laser weapons, known as the "DEW theory" for "Directed Energy Weapon", is not new.

According to Mick West, an American journalist specialising in fact-checking, it "emerged in the early 2000s, particularly after the attacks of September 11, 2001".

At the time, certain conspiracy theories claimed – wrongly – that the collapse of the Twin Towers had been caused by laser weapons. The same theory was later applied to forest fires.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.