Fact Check: Explosion Was NOT Caused By Laser From Sky -- A Transformer Blew In Macul, Chile

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Explosion Was NOT Caused By Laser From Sky -- A Transformer Blew In Macul, Chile Blown Electric

Does a video show a laser beam from the sky, or a Directed Energy Weapon (DEW), cause an explosion in a city, or spark the wildfires in Maui, Hawaii? No, that's not true: This viral video predates the August 8, 2023, Maui wildfires. It shows an electrical transformer exploding in the Santiago commune of Macul, Chile, which was first posted online on May 25, 2023.

Slowing the video down reveals that the transformer sparked before the larger explosion. The spark was not caused by the diagonal beam, which appears to be either an in-camera artifact -- a lens flare -- or possibly an artificial lens flare effect added to the video in post-production. Days after the video was posted on TikTok on May 25, 2023, the Chilean news program CHV Noticias produced a segment about the viral video, concluding the beam of light illusion was from the camera and that the transformer explosion was not an unusual occurrence on a windy day.

This TikTok video resurfaced on Facebook (archived here) on June 25, 2023, under the title:

Direct Energy Weapon

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
beampost.jpg

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Aug 16 19:00:46 2023 UTC)

In this edition of the video, the voiceover says:

That is what you call a DEW Directed Energy Weapon. We are going to slow it down, see a beam? The beam comes from a satellite that's close by. And they can do this, this is how the fires in Paradise California got started. I did a lecture on this on my YouTube so yeah, this uses a high amount of focused energy using lasers in order to spark fires and what not.

The video was first posted on TikTok by @pierosolisv on May 25, 2023. His caption, translated by Google says:

Context: A friend in his apartment in Macul, the power went out, and an explosion sounded, he leaned out and saw that beam 5 times (which for me is a laser, more than a beam) the one in the video is the last one that exploded.

There were also many hashtags included with the post:

#chile #instachile #chilegram #santiagodechile #venezolanosenchile #chilena #chilean #surdechile #mochileros #mochileiros #chileno #gaychile #hechoenchile #instachile_ #chilenas #chiledesperto #chilenos #santiagochile #memeschile #ventaschile #udechile #chiletravel #chilememes #mochileromx #pichilemu #chilegram_ #visitchile #musicachilena #memeschilenos #mochilero #chileestuyo #instachilegram #humorchileno #vamoschile #chiletattoo #seguidoreschilenos #chilelindo #instachilean #chileanmemes #patagoniachilena

This video does not show a DEW or a laser beam. It shows an uncommon but not unusual transformer explosion. A 2:51-minute-long broadcast news segment about the viral video from the Chilean program CHV Noticias was posted on YouTube on May 29, 2023. It features the host asking people on the street what they think the viral video shows. At 1:33 into the video the host visits the location of the transformer explosion (pictured below). At 1:43 minutes into this segment, Humberto Verdejo, a Ph.D. of electrical engineering at the University of Chile, explains (Lead Stories used Google Translate on the YouTube transcript):

And in a way the trees when leaving their original position they tend to interact with the electrical grid is aerial. So it is most likely that some branch touched one or two conductors of the electrical network in that area.

transformerYT.jpg

(Source: YouTube screenshot taken on Wed Aug 16 20:31:21 2023 UTC)

At 1:37 minutes into this news segment attention is brought to a moment that occurs within the first second of the TikTok video. It is difficult to see unless the video is carefully advanced frame by frame. The screenshot below shows the moment when a yellow flash appears near the transformer, just before the large explosion and the diagonal beam appear simultaneously. The flash was only a camera artifact caused by a flash of light.

preflash.jpg

(Source: Screenshot detail from TikTok video taken on Wed Aug 16 20:31:21 2023 UTC)

An article on electricrate.com explains the function of transformers is to "protect your home by reducing the voltage of the current traveling through the power lines." It says there's only a 2 percent risk of an explosion over a service period of 20 years for transformers in the U.S. Several reasons are listed for why an electrical transformer might explode including; lightning, extreme weather, failing trees, mechanical failures and foreign objects entering the transformer, such as animals, too much dust, rodents, branches and/or leaves.

Directed Energy Weapons are a real technology. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has a fact sheet about DEW that describes them this way:

Directed energy weapons (DEW) use concentrated electromagnetic energy to combat enemy forces and assets. These weapons include high energy lasers and other high power electromagnetics--such as millimeter wave and high power microwave weapons.

Lead Stories has debunked several claims involving unrelated natural phenomena and camera artifacts that were misrepresented as DEW.

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


 

Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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