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Marta Campabadal Graus
By Marta Campabadal Graus August 18, 2023

No evidence direct energy weapons caused Maui wildfires

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  • Investigators have not yet determined a single cause for the fires, although attention is increasingly focused on the role downed power lines may have played.

  • Drought conditions and high winds likely contributed to the wildfires’ quick spread, officials say.

  • The U.S. and other governments are exploring using direct energy weapons for military purposes, but experts say there is no evidence they played a role in the Hawaii wildfires.

The wildfires that ignited Aug. 8 in Maui, Hawaii, have killed more than 100 people and destroyed thousands of structures in the historic town of Lahaina.

But social media is rife with claims the fires were ignited by direct energy weapons. "Hawaii is being attacked by Direct Energy Weapons," an Aug. 16 Instagram post said. "Everyone neads to hear this, spread the truth!" read a separate, spelling-challenged post Aug. 16 on Facebook. "D.E.W. Direct Energy Weapon — Hawaii Lahaina Maui — Not wild Fires." 

The posts and others like them were flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.) 

Investigators have not yet determined a single cause for the fires, though drought conditions and high winds likely contributed to their quick spread. Attention is increasingly focused on the role of the area’s electric company: The Washington Post reported that 10 sensors in the town of Makawao recorded a significant incident in Hawaiian Electric’s grid. And video captured by the Maui Bird Conservation Center in Makawao on Aug. 7 showed a bright flash in the woods that the center’s senior research coordinator said in an Instagram video may have been a tree falling on a power line. 

But there has been no suggestion from credible sources that direct energy weapons are to blame. Some of the posts we saw falsely attributing the cause to direct energy weapons used old and misidentified photos as proof.

Direct energy weapons are real — they can be such things as lasers, radio frequency devices and high-powered microwaves — and the U.S. and other governments are exploring using them for military purposes.

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But Scott Savitz, senior engineer at RAND Corporation, said the notion that these weapons played a role in the Hawaiian wildfires is baseless: "The idea that the U.S. military started these fires using directed-energy weapons, either deliberately or accidentally, is absurd."

Joseph Wilkins, assistant professor of atmospheric science at Howard University, said it takes time to determine a cause, but that there is no credible evidence pointing to a "beam energy weapon."

"This is more than likely a standard case of too many invasive or non-native species of plants on the landscape, rising temperatures, and dry conditions," Wilkins said.

Arnaud Trouvé, chair of the department of fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland said fires "occur on a regular basis due to natural phenomena (lighting) or human activities, like domestic use of flames, hot work, and failure of power lines among others. "I do not believe in extraordinary sources such as a beam of light coming from the sky to explain ignition," he said.

Major Gen. Kenneth Hara, commander general of the Hawaii Army National Guard, on Aug. 16, said the National Weather Service had alerted authorities in advance "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."

We rate claims the Hawaii wildfires were caused by direct energy weapons False.

PolitiFact Staff Writers Jeff Cercone and Madison Czopek contributed to this report.

Our Sources

Email interview with Scott Savitz, senior engineer at RAND corporation, Aug. 18, 2023

Email interview with Joseph Wilkins, Howard University professor of atmospheric science, Aug. 14, 2023

Email interview with Arnaud Trouvé, University of Maryland professor and chair of the department of fire protection engineering, Aug. 14, 2023

Email interview with Lee Frelich, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology, Aug. 14, 2023

Lead Stories, "Fact Check: NO Evidence Hawaii Wildfires Caused By 'Direct Energy Weapon Assault'", Aug. 14, 2023

USA Today, "Maui fires spark baseless conspiracy theories about directed energy weapons | Fact check", Aug. 16, 2023

DW News, "Fact check: Maui fires caused by directed energy weapons?", Aug. 17, 2023

AllSides, "Fact Check: Did Directed Energy Weapons Start the Hawaii Wildfires?", Aug. 15, 2023 

Poynter, Why one firefighter is calling out Maui wildfire conspiracy theories, Aug. 16, 2023

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Science & Tech Spotlight: Directed Energy Weapons, May 25, 2023

CNN, "A 7-year-old boy and his relatives are among the dozens killed in the Maui wildfires. Here’s what we know about some of the 111 lives lost", Aug. 18, 2023

The Washington Post, "Power lines likely caused Maui’s first reported fire, video and data show", Aug. 16, 2023

CBS, "How did the Maui fire start? What we know about the cause of the Lahaina blaze", Aug. 17

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No evidence direct energy weapons caused Maui wildfires

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