Deadly wildfires fueled by hot, dry, and windy weather conditions devastated parts of the Hawaiian island of Maui in early August 2023, killing at least 53 people, as of this writing, and causing widespread damage in the historic town of Lahaina. As dramatic first-person accounts and photographs of the conflagration spread on social media, so did rumors and conspiracy theories about what caused it.
Borrowing a conspiracist trope that first emerged during the 2020-21 California wildfires, a number of accounts on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter), as well as Instagram and Facebook, posited that the fires must have been started by a so-called "direct energy weapon" (aka "directed energy weapon" in official parlance):
The photo above, mislabeled as showing a "direct energy weapon," is actually of an oil refinery fire that took place in January 2018. (@/RushLives2112/Twitter)
There were many more such posts, all of which shared this same glaring attribute: a complete lack of evidence in support of the notion that the fires were caused by any sort of attack, much less an attack by a "direct energy weapon." (What is a "direct energy weapon"? The devices most often mentioned in discussions of this type of weaponry are lasers and microwaves. You may recall internet chatter about "space lasers" in the aftermath of the 2020 California wildfires, which some people claimed were indeed caused by direct energy weapons.)
The image of choice in many of these posts was a photograph showing what appeared to be a beam of light descending from the heavens and bursting into flame upon contact with the Earth's surface. Though the clear implication was that this photograph was taken in Maui in 2023 and shows the "direct energy weapon" in action, it has actually been circulating on the internet since at least January 2018 and has nothing to do with lasers or wildfires. As Snopes reported in 2018, the photograph is one of many documenting a controlled burn that occurred at an Ohio oil refinery that January. The apparent "beam of light" seen in the pictures is a cold-weather visual phenomenon known as a "light pillar."
Although no official cause(s) of the 2023 Maui wildfires have yet been announced as of this writing, extreme weather conditions certainly played a role, and aside from the routine possibility that human carelessness or arson could have been involved, there is no compelling reason to posit a non-natural explanation for the catastrophe.
A similar rumor falsely described a 2018 video of electrical explosions in Kenner, Louisiana, as evidence that the Maui wildfires were started by directed energy weapons.