Social media videos push baseless conspiracy theory that blue items were spared from Maui wildfires


CLAIM: Only blue items survived the Maui wildfires and lasers do not impact that color, suggesting the island was actually hit by a directed energy weapon “attack.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The wildfires didn’t spare only blue things, with photos and videos clearly showing buildings and objects of many colors both survived and perished. And while lasers can affect various materials differently, one powerful enough to do such damage would still burn items of any hue, according to an expert. More importantly, there is ample evidence that Maui was ravaged by fires, while the notion that a weapon or laser was involved has been repeatedly debunked.

THE FACTS: False claims that a directed energy weapon was the real cause of the devastation on Maui have been circulating online since the fires in early August, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The latest iteration of the baseless conspiracy theory uses cherry-picked images of the aftermath to falsely suggest that only blue items “survived” the blaze — and that this is somehow proof that the Hawaiian island was hit by a laser that either sparked the fire or did all the damage itself.

Social media posts sharing the post typically include a video from a TikTok account that often shares clips of everyday items being burned by a handheld industrial laser in a workshop. The clip shows the laser burning yellow, red and green fabric, while a blue swatch is unscathed, with text saying it can be programmed for “different wavelengths.”

They contrast this footage with imagery from Lahaina, the historic Maui town that was largely leveled by the wildfire, noting a blue car and some blue beach umbrellas around Front Street, along the waterfront, were not destroyed in the inferno.

Some posts noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a long-running program called “Operation Blue Roof.”

One post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, also points to several blue t-shirts found under some rubble that were relatively unscathed. “Unbelievable. Everything that’s BLUE survived the Maui DEW attack, including T-SHIRTS,” reads the post, which had more with more than 18,000 likes as of Wednesday.

DEW stands for directed energy weapons — which use technology like high-energy lasers instead of projectiles like bullets. But these videos are not evidence that they have anything to do with the wildfires.

To start with, they show just a handful of blue items in the fire’s aftermath, but other footage and photos show these were hardly the only things left standing.

The blue car and umbrellas can both be seen in drone footage of the devastation — but the same video also shows red and green dumpsters and buildings painted various other colors that survived. Aerial footage taken by the Associated Press shows similar scenes.

Before-and-after satellite images also show that a number of buildings that were painted blue were still destroyed.

It’s not uncommon to see some items and structures still standing after wildfires because the fires often spread through flying embers that don’t hit everything, experts previously told the AP. Images of the fire’s aftermath do not show anything abnormal, they said.

FEMA’s Operation Blue Roof, meanwhile, is a long-running initiative to provide plastic sheeting to cover homes damaged by storms to help reduce further damage to the property. “Blue” refers to the color of the sheeting — not the homes themselves.

Regardless, there is no evidence to suggest that Maui was hit by anything other than wildfires, which were witnessed by survivors and documented extensively in videos and images. The video of a laser sparing some blue fabric is not evidence to the contrary, according to Iain Boyd, director of the Center for National Security Initiatives at the University of Colorado.

While it is possible for high energy lasers to interact in different ways with objects made of different materials or even colors, a beam with enough power to start a large fire would just burn through material of any color, he explained in an email to the AP.

“Even more relevant, though, is that these images show areas through which a large fire has raged and the damage that has been caused no longer has anything to do with whatever caused the fire in the first place,” Boyd added in an email. “If these images are genuine, they are saying that blue objects are not susceptible to fire, which we all know is not true.”

Maui County has filed a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric Company over the fires, saying it failed to shut off power despite exceptionally high winds and dry conditions. The company on Sunday acknowledged that its power line started the first wildfire, but said its power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for hours before a more serious second blaze, which tore through downtown Lahaina, killing at least 115 and destroying 2,000 structures.


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

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Date de Publication : 2023-08-30 09:00:00

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