Misleading video about melted cars in Maui shared widely online

21 August 2023
What was claimed

No fires could have burned hot enough to melt aluminium in cars in the recent Maui wildfires.

Our verdict

This is not true. The melting point of aluminium is around 660°C, while wildfires burn at an average intensity of around 800°C.

A video on Facebook claims that there is “no fire” that could have caused cars to melt in the recent wildfires on the island of Maui, Hawaii. 

The video, which was originally posted to TikTok, initially shows a short clip of what appears to be molten metal (identified as aluminium in the voiceover) spilling out from a burnt-out car in Maui. 

It then cuts to a speaker, who claims that the aluminium in the wheels “needs a minimum of 660 Celsius for it to melt” and that there is “not a fire that could create that kind of heat”. 

This is not true. The average temperature of a forest fire specifically is around 800°C with extremes of up to 1,200°C—far higher than the melting point of pure aluminium (approximately 660°C). 

Furthermore, the metal part of the wheel is often made of aluminium alloy, meaning the aluminium is mixed with other metals (though they can also be made of steel or pure aluminium). This can reduce the melting point, though the melting point of steel is much higher than aluminium. 

The speaker in the video also refers to Australia’s “Black Ash Wednesday”, claiming that it was “as hot as it got, about 150 [degrees Celsius], and cars didn’t even melt”. 

It is not clear exactly what event they are referring to, as “Black Ash Wednesday” appears to combine the names of two different wildfire disasters in Australia—Black Saturday in 2009 and Ash Wednesday in 1983

The intensity of wildfires is commonly measured in kilowatts per metre. A Sydney Morning Herald article published in 1983 in the aftermath of Ash Wednesday quoted Professor Ian Ferguson, then of Melbourne University’s forestry department, as saying: “A controllable bushfire can be measured at about 2,000 kilowatts of heat energy per metre. These latest fires would be around 60,000 kilowatts per metre.” 

Professor Ferguson added that there would be “definite similarities” with the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. 

The video implies that the recent devastating fires on Maui are not comparable to other wildfires and were caused by unnatural forces. This follows a pattern of very similar posts we have checked in recent days, with claims that the fires were started deliberately using directed energy weapons going viral on social media. 

Aluminium melting in wildfires is not a new phenomenon. Similar scenes have been reported in the past, including during Greek and Californian wildfires in 2018. 

News stories receiving international attention such as the Maui fires can quickly become the subject of misinformation online, with false claims being difficult to correct after they have been shared widely. 

This pattern is extremely common online, with recent examples including multiple false claims about riots in France, the February earthquake in Turkey and Syria and the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Image courtesy of Dominick Del Vecchio

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