With the death toll at 99 and estimated economic losses potentially reaching $7 billion, the devastation’s origins remain uncertain, CNN reported. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell estimated, as of the night of Aug. 11, a total of 1,418 people were at emergency evacuation shelters, according to Maui County officials.
Amidst this tragedy,some online have woven seemingly baseless narratives behind the fires. One claim that a secret U.S. government “energy weapon” was responsible for the wildfires.
The Associated Press reported instances of misinformation being shared widely across Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly known as Twitter), and TikTok, only spurring the conspiracy theories.
The posts have racked up tens of millions of views, and many of them remain on the platforms without indication that the claims being made in them are entirely false, Vice reported.
Among the theories is that the fires were intentionally set to facilitate the World Economic Forum’s plans for a “smart island” on Maui. There is also a theory that the government is using the fires to create 15-minute cities—an urban planning concept where all amenities would be available within a 15-minute walk or bike ride, Vice reported. The concept of 15-minute cities has been around for decades, but in recent years conspiracy theories have claimed it is a method to allow governments to control their populations.
In one post on Instagram, a man shared the image claiming it “shows a laser beam coming out of the sky directly targeting the city.” He then falsely claimed the Maui wildfires are linked to a long-running conspiracy theory about a weaponized government weather modification program, The AP reported.
This photo provided by County of Maui shows fire and smoke filling the sky from wildfires on the intersection at Hokiokio Place and Lahaina Bypass in Maui, Hawaii on Aug. 8, 2023. (Zeke Kalua/County of Maui via AP)