Was the deadly wildfire that began the evening of August 8, 2023, on the Hawaiian island of Maui caused by a "direct energy weapon assault"? No, that's not true: There's no evidence to support that assertion. Instead, natural factors, not a direct energy weapon, are the likely cause of the wildfires.
The claim appeared in a post and video on Instagram on August 11, 2023, under the title "PAY ATTENTION!!!!!!! NOT WILDFIRES 👺👺👺👺👺" The post's caption says:
Climate change the next chess move to gain more control & depopulate @farmingcommunities101 @sunnywright456 #cityovgods
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Mon Aug 14 20:14:15 2023 UTC)
During the 57-second video, a narrator lays out his case that the wildfire on Maui was the result of a "direct energy weapon assault." Here's what the clip says:
So today, I want to talk about the fires in Hawaii and the fires in Paradise Valley, California. Now, my heart goes out to anybody who's lost family or if their house has been destroyed because of this. This was a direct energy weapon assault on the people. And I say that because my friend in Hawaii, which I'm going to show this picture here, showed a laser beam coming out of the sky directly targeting the city.
This is really important to be aware of because when we look back at Paradise Valley when they had their fire, we see a lot of similarities, such as the trees still standing, which is very interesting for a fire.
Now, with this whole entire thing, the mainstream media is going to say that this is climate change and that we need to do better. But what's not going to be talked about is the weather modification projects which take place in the United States every single day, spraying aluminum and barium and strontium up into the sky. Which if you think about it, aluminum is a very, very flammable material which could result in something like this, or something like this.
For the purposes of this fact check, Lead Stories will focus solely on the claim that a "direct energy weapon" was used to start the Hawaiian wildfire.
Directed Energy Weapon
Although the narrator refers to it as a "direct energy weapon," the correct term is directed energy weapon, or DEW. The U.S. Government Accountability Office website includes this definition for them:
Directed energy weapons--such as lasers--use energy fired at the speed of light. These weapons can produce force that ranges from deterrent, to damaging, to destructive. Many countries, including the U.S., are researching their use.
Because they use energy instead of bullets or missiles, directed energy weapons could be less expensive per shot and have virtually unlimited firing power.
However, the long-term health effects of these weapons are unclear. They also generally have a shorter range than conventional weapons, and weather conditions--such as fog and storms--can make certain directed energy weapons less effective.
About 17 seconds into the clip, the narrator shows a photo he says is from "my friend in Hawaii" and is purportedly of "a laser beam coming out of the sky directly targeting the city." The community he's referring to is the town of Lahaina, located on the west coast of Maui. The historic community was largely destroyed in the fire.
The picture he shows is not from Hawaii but is instead from Canton Township, Ohio, and was taken in January 2018 by Travis Secrest. He first posted it to the Facebook page of The Canton Repository on January 16, 2023, after the newspaper asked readers to share a photo or video of a controlled burn at a Marathon oil refinery that lit up the night sky. Here's what it looks like on the social media platform:
Scrolling through their post reveals that many other readers also posted pictures of the flame from the refinery.
Side by side
Lead Stories put the images alongside each other for comparison's sake:
(Source: Instagram and Facebook screenshots taken on Mon Aug 14 2023 UTC)
Lead Stories reached out to Secrest via Messenger on August 14, 2023, to ask about the photo. He responded the same day, saying he remembers it was a "fridged [his spelling] night":
I first saw the light column from my parents' house and thought there may have been a house fire on top of the hill. But when I drove to the top of the hill, I could see the western portion of the county and could see that the flame was coming from the oil refinery.
Periodically, the oil refinery does a controlled burn which makes the flame on the tower abnormally large. This flame along with the ice crystals in the air caused the scene. Of course, my 2018 Google Pixel phone does not do a great job of capturing the image and makes the pictures much more dramatic than what it looked like in reality.
Secrest told Lead Stories the photo has been used multiple times for other "conspiracy theories":
California wildfires... Michigan oil Refinery fires....alien space laser..... government space laser...... All sorts of things.
National Weather Service
John Bravender, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Honolulu, told Lead Stories in an August 14, 2023, email that factors were present that heightened the fire risk. He continued:
The fires occurred during a period of very strong winds and low relative humidity. Combined with dry vegetation due to increasing drought, all the ingredients were in place for extreme fire danger. In addition to emergency manager briefings the previous week, NWS issued a Fire Weather Watch early Sunday morning [August 6, 2023] and a Red Flag Warning early Monday [August 7, 2023] morning.
Red flag warnings alert residents of the "potential for widespread ignitions or control problems with new or existing fires."
In another August 14, 2023, email, Michael Musher with the NWS public affairs office in Silver Spring, Maryland, said the agency was "alerting local officials up to a week in advance about dangerous fire weather conditions on the Hawaiian Islands" because of the "mix of dry vegetation, strong winds, dry subsiding air and low relative humidity."
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, commander general of the Hawaii Army National Guard, said at a briefing on August 9, 2023, that the exact cause of the wildfire is unknown, according to CBS News. He added:
We don't know what actually ignited the fires, but we were made aware in advance by the National Weather Service that we were in a red flag situation -- so that's dry conditions for a long time, so the fuel, the trees and everything, was dry.
Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to Maui wildfires can be found here.