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- Claims that directed energy weapons were used to start recent fires in Hawaii are unfounded. Fires can spread quickly and overwhelm vegetation, structures and cars.
A recent Instagram post perpetuates the debunked conspiracy theory that "direct energy weapons" were used to intentionally start recent wildfires in Hawaii.
Appearing before an image of burned cars on a street in Lahaina, Maui, a man in a video shared Aug. 17 on Instagram suggests that because the cars’ doors are closed, it’s "proof there was a direct energy weapon used" and its passengers were killed before they could flee.
This post was 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.)
Directed energy weapons are real and use energy fired at light speed: Think high-energy lasers and high-powered microwave weapons that use concentrated electromagnetic energy. Countries including the United States have been researching the use of these weapons, but we’ve already fact-checked and rated false claims that "Hawaii is being attacked by direct energy weapons."
So what explains the images of burned cars in Lahaina?
Michael Gollner, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies fire spread, told PolitiFact that fires in the wildland-urban interface, a zone of transition between wilderness and land, can move "very quickly" as high winds both drive flames through vegetation and homes and spread embers "that continuously ignite new fires ahead of the fireline."
"This can result in rapid spread that quickly cuts off evacuation routes," Gollner said in an email. "Homes, vegetation and everything around becomes fuel in these fires, with that built up around the roadways it would be easy to overwhelm a vehicle."
As the fire spread Aug. 8 in Lahaina, hydrants ran dry, emergency sirens never sounded and the town’s 911 emergency calling system went down, The New York Times reported.
"Many of those who evacuated said they were corralled by road closures and downed power lines into traffic jams that left some people to burn alive in their cars and forced others to flee into the Pacific," the Times said.
We rate claims that photos of burned cars with closed doors are evidence that directed energy weapons were used to start the wildfires in Hawaii False.
Instagram post, Aug. 17, 2023
YouTube, Lahaina's Front Street filled with burned cars abandoned by drivers who ran for their lives, Aug. 10, 2023
The New York Times, How Fire Turned Lahaina Into a Death Trap, Aug. 15, 2023
Newsweek, Hawaii Video Shows Entire Street Destroyed by Wildfire, Aug. 14, 2023
PolitiFact, No evidence direct energy weapons caused Maui wildfires, Aug. 18, 2023
U.S. Government and Accountability Office, Science & Tech Spotlight: Directed Energy Weapons, May 25, 2023
Email interview with Michael Gollner, Associate Professor and Deb Faculty Fellow. Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, Aug. 21, 2023
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