Social media users are suggesting a video shows a laser beam igniting the wildfires that burned through the US state of Hawaii in August 2023. This is false; the clip was filmed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and appears to show lightning.
"Maui, Hawaii. Absolutely nothing to see here at all, nope just move along, nothing suspect at all," says an August 24, 2023 post from an account that has previously spread misinformation about the deadly fires on the island of Maui.
Such systems use concentrated electromagnetic energy and are being developed in the United States for drone and missile defense, according to the Government Accountability Office.
"Directed Energy Weapon caught on camera," says another X post sharing the same clip.
The video in question was filmed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico -- more than 3,200 miles (about 5,100 kilometers) away from Lahaina.
Reverse image and keyword searches show the footage was originally posted to TikTok (archived here ) as early as August 3, 2023, days before the inferno in Maui. The caption identifies the location as Puerto Vallarta, a resort city on Mexico's Pacific coast.
AFP geolocated the video to a stretch of the Malecon boardwalk outside Devil's Bar & Grill. The trees, skyline and other features in the clip match those in images on Google Maps Street View (archived here ).
The TikTok user who originally shared the footage confirmed to AFP that he took the video August 3 in Puerto Vallarta.
'Really crazy allegations'
Authorities are still probing the cause of the Hawaii wildfires, including whether downed power lines and decisions by the state's main utility contributed to the flames.
The National Weather Service issued advance warnings about dangerous fire conditions as a nearby hurricane brought intense winds to an area with dry vegetation.
"With winds this severe and a large amount of dry grass surrounding the community, there is no need for an ignition from 'space,'" Michael Gollner, who researches fire dynamics at the University of California-Berkeley, previously told AFP of the laser conspiracy theories.
"Obviously these are really crazy allegations."
Iain Boyd, an expert on directed energy weapons at the University of Colorado, previously told AFP a laser with enough power to spark the Hawaii blazes would require an "enormous" air or spacecraft that could not go unnoticed.
When asked about another image purportedly showing a laser, Boyd added that the modern high-energy lasers used for weapons operate at a wavelength that cannot be seen with the naked eye.
AFP has debunked other misinformation about the Hawaii wildfires here.
August 28, 2023 This article was updated to add a comment from the TikTok user who shared the original footage.