Conspirators claim Hawaii wildfires were a deliberate attempt

Social media users are fueling the speculation that authorities wanted to turn Maui into a '15-minute' city.
Sejal Sharma
Gutted city of Maui
Gutted city of Maui


There’s a lot of false information on the internet. One result of this is the growing clamor around a conspiracy theory that claims that the Hawaii wildfires that killed 110 people last week were not a natural disaster but were a deliberate attempt to transform Maui into a smart city quickly.

As the deadly wildfires engulfed Hawaii, Maui County was worst hit.

Imaginations running wild

The speculation is that a conference took place in Maui in January in which talks were held about converting Maui into a ‘smart city’ and that soon, another meeting would take place in which it would be decided how artificial intelligence (AI) would replace the current form of governance.

It stems from a popular right-wing notion that organizations like the United Nations and the World Economic Forum want to forcibly and quickly turn cities into ‘smart cities,’ playing into the ‘15-minute city’ conspiracy which defines it as a city where people’s daily needs are accessible within a 15-minute walk, bike or transit ride.

“Do not rely on people who fancy themselves as influencers,” said Hawaii Governor Josh Green.

The Associated Press reported that both these claims were false as the January conference was about addressing the emerging issues in the information technology sector globally. And similarly, the next month’s conference is not explicitly focused on using AI on Maui but on how governments across the state can better adapt emerging technologies.

False images fuels fear-mongering

Social media users have also posted images taken out of context and falsely depicted to push forward their agenda and speculation. One X user posted on the website claiming that the wildfires resulted from Direct Energy Weapons. 

But X fact-checked the claim and found that it was an image of an oil refinery in Ohio conducting a controlled burn which caused "light pillars" to appear in the sky. 

"Times of crisis are always a heyday of disinformation, misinformation, and conspiracy myths. This has to do with the fact that the information situation itself is very precarious," said Professor Dr. Lena Frischlich, an expert on conspiracy theories, in an interview with DW.

An investigation into the cause of wildfires is being carried out. We know that the wildfires spread due to strong winds from Hurricane Dora, which never made landfall in Hawaii. According to authorities, the wildfires were caused due to a combination of hot weather and drought.

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