Conspiracy Theorists Think the Government Used Lasers to Start Maui Wildfires on Purpose

Many of those spreading the conspiracies are subscribed to the Twitter Blue service, which ensures their posts are promoted more heavily in search results.
An aerial image taken on August 10, 2023 shows destroyed homes and buildings burned to the ground in Lahaina in the aftermath of wildfires in western Maui, Hawaii. (PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

As firefighters on the island of Maui continue to battle flare ups from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, conspiracy theorists on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and in particular Twitter, are spreading claims that the U.S. government used directed energy weapons to cause the deadly blazes in order to turn Maui into a “smart island.”

The posts have racked up tens of millions of views and many of them remain on the platforms without any warning that the claims being made in them are entirely false.


While the claims about the government seeking to create a smart island or turn the fire-razed city of Lahaina into a 15-minute city are new, the idea that laser weapon systems developed by the government have been used to start the wildfires are nothing new, dating back to at least the devastating wildfires that raged across California in October 2017.

These claims merge two distinct conspiracy narratives: a deep distrust of governments, and claims that undermine the role of climate change in the dramatic increase in the number of wildfires raging across North America in recent years.

The fires in Maui began on August 8 and have so far claimed the lives of 99 people, with 1,300 more still unaccounted for, making this the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in a century. Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire, but there is no evidence so far that they were started deliberately. 

But almost as soon as they began, social media users were making up wild allegations about the origins of the deadly blazes. One Instagram video posted on August 11 shows footage from the aftermath of the fires, with the narrator claiming it looks like the aftermath of a bomb being detonated. It has racked up millions of views on Instagram and on other platforms where it has been reposted.


On X, where much of the conspiracies have been spread, video claiming to show a “direct energy weapon” or DEW being fired in Maui was viewed 10 million times before a Community Note was added pointing out that the footage actually showed a transformer explosion in Chile earlier this year.

Another post on X showed what appeared to be a laser beam pointing at a burning church in Maui, but a review of the original image taken by an Associated Press photographer shows the image had been doctored. That post racked up 9 million views.

Claims that DEWs have been deployed to purposely begin fires can be traced back at least six years. In 2017, a flat-earth YouTuber known as ODD Reality claimed DEWs were used to start the devastating wildfires that raged across California that October.

A year later, conspiracy theorists blamed Northern California’s Camp Fire, as well as the Woolsey Fire and the Hill Fire on direct energy weapons. In 2021, the same claim was made by Canadian conspiracy theorists who traveled to Lytton, British Columbia to witness the aftermath of a wildfire that destroyed 90% of the village and killed two residents.

Directed energy weapons or laser weapons are not an invention of conspiracy theorists; for decades the U.S. government has been attempting to get them to work on the battlefield, where they could be used to combat drone and missile attacks.


“The Department of Defense spends about $1 billion annually on directed energy--concentrated electromagnetic energy--weapons, including high energy lasers and high powered microwaves,” Jon Ludwigson, a director at the Government Accountability Office’s Contracting and National Security Acquisitions (CNSA) team, said in a video last April.

However, as Ludwigson said in the video, getting the technology out of the lab and onto the battlefield has proven difficult for the DOD, which has yet to deploy such a system in a real world scenario. 

For the Maui wildfires, the conspiracy theorists have added a new twist to their claims, asserting baselessly that the fires were purposely started to fulfill the World Economic Forum’s goal of creating a smart island on Maui or a 15-minute city in Lahaina, depending on which conspiracy theorist you listen to.

Some social media users pointed to a conference that took place on Maui in January, where scientists discussed the idea of 15-minute cities—an urban planning concept where all amenities would be available within a 15-minute walk or bike ride.

While the idea of 15-minute cities have been around for decades, in recent years conspiracy theories have latched onto it claiming it is a method to allow governments control their populations.


“The governor did say this is climate change doing this,” the narrator of the August 11 Instagram video said. “Interesting. What they don’t talk about is in January how they had in Maui a smart city conference to turn Maui into an entire smart island, changing everything to electric, renewables, solar panels and pushing everybody into electric vehicles—15-minute smart cities.”

However none of the research papers presented at the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, which has been held on the island since 1968, discussed turning Maui into a “smart island.”

The conspiracies about the Maui wildfires have been shared on all platforms, but they have found their largest audience on X, where they have been viewed millions of times and even promoted in search results despite the company’s claims that it has rid the platform of almost all disinformation. 

“By all objective metrics, X is a much healthier and safer platform than it was a year ago,” Linda Yaccarino, the CEO of X told CNBC last week, adding that 99.9% of the content on the platform was what she called “healthy.”

But conspiracy theories around the Maui wildfires have spread unchecked on the platform and were among the top results returned when VICE News searched for terms like “Maui” and “wildfire.”

Many of those spreading the conspiracies are subscribed to the Twitter Blue service, which ensures their posts are promoted more heavily in search results.   

And one of those presented another twist on the “our government is using direct energy weapons to kill their own people” conspiracy, by claiming that soft drink maker Mountain Dew was in on the conspiracy from the beginning.

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“The government has been lying,” one X user wrote. “The name of the weapon they used is a military plane and it’s called the D.E.W It’s no coincidence that mountain dew made a Maui Dew drink called burst, or should we say maui burst into flames? Think about it. People wake up.”