No evidence directed energy weapons caused fires in Hawaii and California

16 August 2023
What was claimed

Directed energy weapons caused fires in Paradise, California, and Lahaina, Hawaii.

Our verdict

There is no evidence to support this. The 2018 fire in California started as a result of a fallen power line. While no cause has yet been determined for the fire in Hawaii, some experts have suggested it may have started in a similar way, with dry conditions and high winds causing the fire to spread very rapidly.

A post on Facebook claims that huge fires in Lahaina, Hawaii, and Paradise, California, were caused by “directed-energy weapons”. There is no evidence that this is true. 

The post shows a collage image of severe fire damage in both California and Hawaii, with the caption: “The result of directed-energy weapons (DEWS)”. 

Reverse-image searches show that the first photo, labelled as being taken in Paradise, California, is from the aftermath of the 2018 wildfire that destroyed the town, killing at least 85 people

The second picture is of the aftermath of the recent fire in Lahaina, on the island of Maui, Hawaii. At the time of writing, it’s been confirmed that at least 106 people have been killed by devastating fires on Maui, with many more still missing. 

Misinformation can flourish in the midst of large-scale events such as the fires in Hawaii, and it can be difficult to halt the spread of false claims online. We have seen this pattern of misinformation many times, with recent examples including multiple false claims about riots in France, the February earthquake in Turkey and Syria and the Russian invasion of Ukraine

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What are directed energy weapons? 

Directed energy weapons are systems that use technologies such as lasers and other electromagnetic energy in order to cause disruptive, damaging or destructive effects on equipment or facilities.

They are currently being researched by a number of countries, including the UK and the US. 

In the wake of the fires on Maui, directed energy weapons have been the subject of many baseless claims that they were deliberately deployed to cause the destruction. 

A number of videos claiming to show lasers targeting the island have been shared online but, as other fact checkers have said, many of these appear to be edited or old videos taken out of context.

How did the fires in California and Maui start? 

There is no evidence to support claims that the fires in either location were caused by directed energy weapons. 

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says that the 2018 fire that destroyed Paradise (referred to as Camp Fire) was started by a faulty electric transmission line. 

With firefighters still tackling blazes in Maui, the cause of the fire is still under investigation. The US National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning for the island, which indicates that conditions such as high winds, low humidity, dry vegetation and a lack of rainfall could produce an increased risk of dangerous fires. 

Some experts have suggested that active power lines felled by very high winds could have also sparked some of the blaze, but this has not yet been confirmed.

Image courtesy of Master Sgt. Andrew Jackson

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