Bill Gates, laser beams & more: Round-up of false claims linked to Hawaii wildfire

Bill Gates, laser beams & more: Round-up of false claims linked to Hawaii wildfire

By: francesca scott&
August 21 2023

Share Article: facebook logo twitter logo linkedin logo
Bill Gates, laser beams & more: Round-up of false claims linked to Hawaii wildfire

Image source: Reuters

Tuesday, August 8, 2023, saw devastating wildfires rip through the historic town of Lahaina on the west coast of Hawaii's (spelled locally as Hawai'i) Maui island. At present, 111 people have lost their lives, over 1,000 are still unaccounted for, and thousands have been displaced. As The Economist reports, wildfires, combined with intense winds from Hurricane Dora, have decimated the area around and including the former capital that was, just days ago, a thriving neighborhood rich with history. 

Hawaii has seen increasing drought over recent years. Combined with invasive plant species, this creates ground conditions like kindling. Growing numbers of storms worsen wildfires as wind spreads them. Governor Josh Green has pointed to climate change as "the ultimate reason that so many people perished." In the same article, The New York Times reported that a local fixing his roof after high winds saw a small brush fire after an electricity cable snapped, landing on the ground below and igniting dry grass and nearby yards. This was early morning on August 8, with county officials reporting the burn to be contained just two and a half hours later, around 9 a.m. What happened next is still under investigation but resulted in the razing of a community, its homes, animals, wildlife, businesses, and cars.

The official response to the wildfires has come under scrutiny. Blocked escape routes, a lack of water to douse flames, and a refusal to initiate emergency sirens and warn residents have seen the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency forced to resign, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Locals are also demanding answers from electricity company Hawaiian Electric for not shutting off powerlines during the hurricane.

On X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok, misinformation spread similarly to the fires, covering different routes with varying intensities. Due to the nature of conspiracy theories and how they overlap and spread, some of these narratives quickly became linked to the supposed New World Order, intentional arson as part of a "land grab" plan, a false flag operation, and the use of Direct Energy Weapons (DEWs). 

Here's a roundup of all the misinformation narratives Logically Facts has fact-checked so far. 


No, this is not Bill Gates's mansion in Hawai'i 'untouched by the fires'

The covered boat marina seen on Getty Images can also be located on Google Maps.
Source: Getty Images (L), Google Maps (R)

As is the nature of misinformation, users started linking the fires with known conspiracy theory figures. This claim used an image of Bill Gates's waterside mansion to suggest that his was one of few homes that mysteriously remained intact, as the rest of the town was destroyed. A simple analysis of the picture led us to Getty Images and a caption that noted the house's location. From there, Google Maps led us to Bill Gates' Lake Washington mansion, Medina, Washington: identical to, but far from, the Hawaii forest fires. 

Read the fact-check here.

A video showing trees and plants surviving Hawai'i wildfires does not mean the fires were fake

Posts on X claiming the Lahaina wildfires were a false flag operation have used videos and images of unburned areas to claim the fires were fake, along with captions like "Everything is burnt but the trees, but don't point that out or ur a conspiracy theorist." The intricate biological structure of trees protects from fire; thick layers of bark, sap that runs through the vascular system, and adaptations that mean branches grow higher up the trunk in places harder for fire to reach. Logically Facts spoke to two experts in this area, who both refuted the claims. Nathan Gill, assistant professor at the University of Texas, believes that the fire pattern was more likely due to the distribution of different plant species that burn at different rates and intensities, noting, "This patchy burning tends to be the rule, not the exception." Stephanie Yelenik, a rangeland scientist in the US Forest Service, informed us that, to her knowledge, Lahaina has mainly non-native, invasive plant species that carry fire quickly. 

Read the fact-check here.

Digitally altered image used to claim laser beam started fires in Hawaii

Comparison of the Associated Press image and the viral image.
(Source: AP, X/Jacobtolley_127 )

Digitally manipulated images from the wildfires gained a lot of traction on social media. One X post claimed that laser beans were used to ignite fires, with an image of Waiola Church in Lahaina ablaze, with what appears to be an orange beam directed at it from the sky. Logically Facts found the original image, taken by photographer Matthew Thayer, on the AP newsroom website. Analysis showed that the image had been flipped, cropped, and manipulated to fit this false narrative. 

Read the fact-check here.

The publication of a book does not prove that the Maui wildfires were planned in advance

A familiar wildfire narrative began to circulate when a book, "Fire and Fury: The Story of the 2023 Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change," began climbing the ranks of Amazon Books. The book, published August 20, 2023, just two days after the fires started, and the title, similar to that of a book written about former President Donald Trump's time in the White House, led some on social media to suspect the book was evidence the fires were planned. However, Snopes analyzed the content, and it became clear that the book contained no new information than what was available at the time and was likely to have been produced by AI.

Read the fact-check here.

Visuals of a transformer exploding in Chile shared as footage of Hawaii wildfire

Spanish language news report of transformer explosion. (Source:YouTube)

Footage of a bright explosion in a built-up area was used in posts that reported the use of DEWs. This was linked to the Maui wildfires through hashtags and captions claiming to show "what allegedly happened" in Lahaina. The post notes the footage is from Chile with the caption, "Here's a video of an actual Direct Energy Weapon (DEW) strike in Chile on May 26th 2023," Logically Facts tracked the original footage to the YouTube channel of CHV Noticias, a news program from Chilean television network Chilevisión. When viewing the footage from a different angle and at a slower speed, it is possible to see the transformer of an electricity pole spark, followed by a large explosion, not the use of a DEW. 

Read the fact-check here.

Old video of mulch fire in Cleveland passed off as visuals of wildfires in Hawaii and California

Another misattributed video circulated on X gained 508,000 views with the caption "BREAKING: Jaw-Dropping Hawaii Video - Fire Gets Blown Across the Street!" Logically Facts found the video was first published by local U.S. news outlet Cleveland 19 on June 18, 2022 and featured location-specific signage that was easily traceable on Google Maps to Cleveland, Ohio. Another YouTube account, "I'm From Cleveland," posted similar footage on the same date, and a news report on News 5 Cleveland, an Ohio-based television station, reported on the same video, describing a mulch fire in the same location on June 18, 2022. Identical footage was also found to be misattributed to California wildfires. 

Read the fact-check here.

No, the Governor of Hawaii did not say that a 'bomb and fire went off' in Lahaina

Video of the press conference update on Maui fires held by the Governor of Hawaii, Josh Green. (Source: Facebook)

Comments by the Governor of Hawaii were taken out of context and disseminated under a false narrative – that the fires in Hawaii resulted from a bomb. Prominent spreader of online misinformation, Eric Moutsos, known for amplifying QAnon, COVID-19, and climate change conspiracy theories, made these claims. Comments made by Governor Josh Green were edited and removed from their context to create a false narrative to imply coordinated action between state and federal agencies. The full, unedited news conference on the Hawaii Office of Governor's Facebook page makes it clear that this is not the case.

Read the fact-check here.

No, fires in Hawaii are not related to smart city plans

Some users on social media have connected wildfires in Hawaii to broader Great Reset conspiracy theories involving smart cities and the World Economic Forum (WEF). Claims alleged the fires were part of the U.S. government and the WEF's green agenda to destroy small businesses that would oppose the implementation of smart cities while bringing about an authoritarian, socialist regime. However, there is no evidence that the U.S. government or the WEF orchestrated the fires to push smart city developments or destroy small businesses.

Read the fact-check here.

No, this video does not show a 'direct energy weapons attack' on Maui

News report of electrical fires and transformers exploding in Kenner, Louisiana due to high winds. (Source: YouTube)

Claims about Direct Energy Weapons (DEWs) were rampant. Logically Facts found that one image that gained 23,000 views was taken from a Louisiana-based television station, WWLTV, depicting electrical explosions possibly due to electricity poles catching fire in high winds. Though the explosions took place in Kenner, Louisiana, in 2018, a Spanish language post using the same narrative and footage gained 319,000 views. 

Read the fact-check here.

Would you like to submit a claim to fact-check or contact our editorial team?

Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before