No evidence Maui wildfires started intentionally to create a ‘smart island’

21 August 2023
What was claimed

Wildfires in Maui were started intentionally to implement plans for a ‘smart island’. A conference hosted in January and one scheduled for September are evidence of this plan.

Our verdict

There’s no evidence the fires were started intentionally to create a ‘smart island’. Smart cities were one of many topics discussed at a conference in January but are not on the agenda for the conference in September.

A video circulating on Facebook suggests wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, were started intentionally to implement plans for a “smart island”. But there’s no evidence this is true.

A “smart island” refers to implementing the concept of a ‘smart city’ across all of Maui. A smart city uses digital technology to make traditional networks and services—such as transport, water supply, waste disposal, heating and lighting—more efficient. 

The speaker conflates smart cities with a separate urban planning concept known as a ‘15 minute city’—he says “15 minute smart cities”. This concept refers to the idea of all amenities being within a 15 minute walk or cycle of people’s homes. It has been the subject of misinformation that Full Fact has written about many times before

While the cause of the fires in Hawaii has not been confirmed, there’s no evidence to suggest the fires were started intentionally to enable the creation of a “smart island”. 

The US National Weather Service had issued a red flag for the island, warning that conditions such as high winds, low humidity, dry vegetation and a lack of rainfall could produce an increased risk of dangerous fires. There have been suggestions that active power lines brought down by strong winds could have sparked the blazes, but this has not been confirmed

At the time of writing, more than 100 people are reported to have been killed by the wildfires and at least 1,000 people are estimated to be missing. 

Misinformation can spread quickly online during a large-scale event like this. Full Fact has written about other false claims relating to the wildfires in Maui, including posts claiming to show photos of directed energy weapons and a video of a supposed explosion on the island.

We observed similar surges of misinformation around other global news stories, such as the recent riots in France, the earthquake in Turkey and Syria and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. You can read more about identifying misleading images and videos using our guides here and here.   

Honesty in public debate matters

You can help us take action – and get our regular free email

What’s claimed in the video?

The speaker in the video suggests the fires were started deliberately so the island could  be rebuilt as a “smart island”. He speculates that past and planned events hosted in Hawaii are evidence of this plan. 

He says: “What they don’t talk about is how in January they had in Maui a smart city conference to turn Maui into an entire smart island changing everything to electric, renewables, solar panels, and pushing everybody into electric vehicles. 15 minute smart cities.

“So now what’s also interesting is next month in September Hawaii is hosting the digital government summit utilising AI to govern the island. It’s almost like they’re resetting something to start rebuilding for this in which they’re trying to push.”

We found multiple other posts making the same claim on both Facebook and Twitter

Several posts suggest the World Economic Forum (WEF) intentionally started the fires to create smart cities. Full Fact has written about many conspiracy theories concerning the WEF, including false claims it admitted to engineering the climate

Was there a ‘smart city conference’?

The speaker in the video appears to be referring to the 56th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), which was held in Maui in January. This is an annual event that began in 1968 and involves industry experts and academics in information, computer and system sciences. 

The video shows a screenshot of a document calling for academics to submit research for a session called ‘smart and connected cities and communities’. So while there was a discussion about smart cities, it was one of many topics. A total of 1,429 research papers were submitted to the conference with 628 being accepted. 

While five papers have been published in connection to the session on smart cities, none are about turning Maui into a “smart island”.  

Tung Bui, the chair of the conference, told fact checkers at PolitiFact, “we did not have any specific discussion to turn Maui into a smart city”.

He reportedly said: "The idea of resorting to destructive measures, causing harm to a historic landmark and resulting in numerous fatalities, all in an attempt to transform Maui into a smart island, stretches the boundaries of my imagination.”

The video also shows screenshots from a 2017 document that refers to a project called JUMPSmartMaui. This is a Japan-US case study looking at how renewable energy can be integrated into the electricity grid in Maui using a smart grid. A smart grid is an electricity network that uses digital and other advanced technologies to manage supply, demand and data quality.

What is the AI government summit?

The speaker also refers to a “digital government summit utilising AI to govern the island”. It shows a screenshot of a webpage for a Digital Government Summit due to take place in Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu, in September. 

A note has been published on the conference webpage addressing misleading online claims connecting it to smart cities. It says: “These claims are incorrect and do not align with the summit’s annual focus. The event is designed to facilitate collaboration among public and private sector IT professionals, encouraging the exchange of best practices and innovative solutions to enhance the support and services provided to the constituents they serve.”

There’s no reference to smart cities on the conference’s agenda

Weather Modification 

The speaker also refers to the Weather Modification Act 1976, and says: “I highly recommend everybody look into this act because who is involved in the weather modification activities? Department of Agriculture, Department of Defence, Department of Interior, EPA [US Environmental Protection Agency] and NASA. 

“So if they’re modifying the weather could they have caused this event?”

The 1976 National Weather Modification Act authorised and directed a study on weather modification with recommendations for a US national policy and research program. The video shows a screenshot of several paragraphs from the bill listing the government agencies involved in approving or deferring the bill. 

Weather modification operations take place in more than 50 countries, and most commonly refer to cloud seeding. The North American Weather Modification Council (NAWMC) describes how cloud seeding “accelerates the precipitation process” and “reduces a storm’s severity”. It also specifies that “there is no data to suggest that cloud seeding produces dry conditions downwind from target areas”. 

There’s no evidence to suggest cloud seeding or any other weather modification techniques were used to start the fires in Maui. 

Image courtesy of B.D.’s world

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.