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

By: Umme Kulsum
August 18 2023

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


The Verdict False

This photo is digitally altered. The original photo has been cropped and horizontally flipped to show that a laser beam ignited the Hawaii fires.

Claim ID 976034fc


An image circulating on social media claims to show that a laser beam started the disastrous fires in Hawaii (locally referred to as Hawai’i). The picture depicts a burning structure with what appears to be a laser striking it. An X post (formerly known as Twitter) carrying the image was captioned, “MAUI FIRES Direct Energy Weapon D.E.W. | Would you look at that.” The post had gathered 32,000 views at the time of writing this story. Archive versions can be accessed here and here.


Source: X @MattaWallace/@TruthSeeker____

Another user shared this image with the caption, “Are you prepared to handle the truth?.” This post amassed 9.6 million views and over 9,038 reshares. Wallace has also posted several other false claims about the Maui fire, including a conspiratorial video that contained this image as its thumbnail.

However, the viral image is digitally manipulated. The original image was captured by Associated Press (AP) photographer Matthew Thayer.

In fact

Analysis of the image led us to the original image on the AP Newsroom website, which credited the image to AP photographer Matthew Thayer. The building seen in the image is Waiola Church in Lahaina, which was engulfed by flames on August 8, 2023, when the fires broke out in that region. 

The AP website's caption reads, “The hall of historic Waiola Church in Lahaina and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission is engulfed in flames along Wainee Street on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP).”

 It should be noted that the original image has been cropped, flipped, and manipulated to fit a false narrative.

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

According to CBS News, an investigation is underway to determine what initially sparked the wildfires, and the cause has not been officially determined. As per a Reuters report, experts have suggested that climate change, a flash drought, invasive grass and high winds all contributed to the fire's rapid spread.

The verdict

Although the image shared on social media is from Hawaii, the laser-like beam above the structure has been digitally inserted to further a false narrative. Therefore we have marked this claim as false.

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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